Trump defends Twitter behavior as 'fighting back,' promises to be 'restrained' while president

Trump on 60 Minutes

Screengrab via CBS News

Does anybody expect anything to change?

The United States is officially five days into the President-elect Donald Trump era, a whole new world that this time a week ago seemed out of the question.

And now, all those questions that once seemed safely theoretical are being asked of the victorious Republican nominee in the somber tones befitting an incoming president—questions about Cabinet appointments, Obamacare, and of course, whether America’s newest commander-in-chief is going to keep waging flame wars on Twitter.

That was the question put to Trump in a recent 60 Minutes interview with Leslie Stahl, an excerpt of which has been released ahead of Sunday's broadcast. “Are you gonna be tweeting,” Stahl asked, “and whatever you’re upset about, just put out there when you’re president?”

“It’s a modern form of communication,” Trump said. “Between Facebook and Twitter and I guess Instagram, I have 28 million people, 28 million people.”

“So you are going to keep it up,” Stahl again asked, with the faintest hint of incredulity. “It’s a great form of communication,” Trump replied. “Now, do I say I’ll give it up entirely and throw it out? That’s a tremendous form—I’m picking up now, I think I pick up yesterday 100,000 people. I’m not saying I love it, but it does get the word out.”

Trump’s ensuing explanation for why he couldn’t just “give up” his Twitter presence was telling. It was a direct, succinct explanation of how he used the platform throughout his campaign and why he feels so married to it now. His massive hoard of followers—some number of them virulently hostile, racist, sexist, and harassing—allows him to enforce an eye-for-an-eye ethos against his critics, a concept which could be even less comforting in a president than a major party presidential candidate. 

He also spoke slightly ominously about using social media to combat stories in the press he doesn’t like, something that has grim implications. His campaign actually maintained a journalistic blacklist for months, and Trump himself routinely demonized the media to his supporters, leading some reporters to fear for their safety at his events.

“When you give me a bad story, or when you give me an inaccurate story, or when somebody other than you at another network, or whatever, because of course, because CBS would never do that, right? I have a method of fighting back. That’s very tough.”

Trump went on to insist he’d be “very restrained” in his use of Twitter, but anyone watching to see which part of his answer he put the most energy and belief behind, it was undoubtedly his defense of his Twitter habits and not the fleeting pledge to keep things tamped down and close to his chest. 

For the record, following the recording of the 60 Minutes interview, he launched yet another Twitter attack on the New York Times.

Trump ultimately made it pretty clear why he feels such a devotion to his Twitter account, giving yet another insight into the incoming commander-in-chief. It could be seen as somewhat concerning. He approves of it because he thinks his Twitter presence helped him win the presidency, despite being outspent by millions, and badly out-organized on the ground. In other words, why would he abandon what got him to this point?

"I do believe this, I really believe that the fact that I have such power in terms of number with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., I think it helped me win all these races where they're spending much more money than I spent, and I won. I think that social media has much more power than the money they spent, and I think to some extent I proved it."

Notably, the question of the official @POTUS Twitter account was not addressed, and that'll be an interesting situation. As President Obama made clear prior to Election Day, the presidential Twitter account goes with the office. Obama's past tweets will be pre-scrubbed and archived. That means Trump could actually have two accounts at his disposal, with the new @POTUS account adding another 11.8 million followers to his sphere of online influence.

The full 60 Minutes interview with Trump will air Sunday at 7pm ET. Anybody who's eager to get a better sense of how the newest president is viewing his ascension to the halls of power will want to tune in. 

This much seems clear, however: Trump views social media as a core tool for warring with the media and whipping up his base of support, so it figures that he's not going to give it up.

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