For avid Twitter user President Donald Trump, social media is more than just a means of communication. It is also a guide to policy.
That’s the main takeaway from Andrew Restuccia, Daniel Lippman, and Eliana Johnson’s Politico profile of Dan Scavino, Trump’s long-standing social media guru and newly promoted senior adviser for digital strategy.
Trump is interested in data — but only his version of “Trumpian data, which means it’s a little bit of cotton candy and it’s not grounded in reality,” Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien told Politico.
Scavino uses these data points to reassure the president that he and his policy choices are beloved, Politico reports. He’s always by Trump’s side, answering questions about how Trump’s tweets are doing or providing feedback based on what he’s heard on social media — and, in some cases, using that feedback to guide policy discussions. In one eye-catching anecdote that Restuccia, Lippman, and Johnson recount, lawmakers were trying to convince the president not to follow through on his plan to withdraw US troops from Syria. Trump reportedly “responded by calling in the man who oversees his Twitter account”:
“Get Dan Scavino in here,” Trump called out in the middle of the meeting earlier this year. In walked a man in his early 40s with close-cropped brown hair.
“Tell them how popular my policy is,” Trump instructed Scavino, who, according to two people with knowledge of the exchange, proceeded to walk lawmakers through the positive reaction he had picked up on social media about Trump’s Syria decision.
The sudden pivot from geostrategy to retweets and likes surprised the lawmakers. It was a remarkable moment given that not long ago Scavino was managing Trump’s golf club. But for Scavino himself, it was just another day on the job.
In an interview with Politico, Trump downplayed Scavino’s actual influence on policy, saying that the aide did not want to get too involved. But based on Politico’s report, Scavino is at least one of Trump’s “closest confidants.”
Once the general manager of Trump’s golf club in Westchester County, New York, Savino has now been described by the president himself as an essential piece of his reelection campaign.
Scavino collaborates with the president on tweets and keeps up with Trump’s order to keep a tally of all of his followers across multiple social media sites — all without trying to constrain him. It is this “let Trump be Trump” attitude that has secured his position in the White House, according to Politico. It also means that he will most likely continue to help Trump use social media as a way to justify his most radical policy ideas.
Twitter, however, isn’t representative of real-life American voters. Even discounting that Trump’s followers may be more in line with his views than most social media users (US Twitter users are younger and more Democratic than the general public, according to an April survey from Pew Research Center), the feedback he’s getting from social media probably still comes from a limited pool. That same Pew survey also found that just 10 percent of users create 80 percent of tweets.
Social media sites are nevertheless, according to Politico, one of Trump’s most important pools of info on American voters.