Donald Trump, “Dwayne” Wade, and the Outrage Machine
“Dwayne Wade’s cousin was just shot and killed while walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!” – Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump)
When running a campaign, when is it a good idea to co-opt a personal tragedy for retweets and votes?
For brands, the answer is definitely never. For Presidential candidates, politicizing a person’s death — especially when their politics are counter to your own — is usually a fire-starter. But Donald Trump’s campaign runs out outrage. The Republican’s most outrage-inducing tweets often work for him, not against him.
Will the Dwyane Wade gaffe destroy Donald Trump on Twitter? Or is the “mistake” another key step in Trump’s shock-and-awe strategy?
Gun Control vs. Tough on Crime
In the 2016 Presidential election, a key differentiation point between candidates is the second amendment. Hillary Clinton has positioned herself as the gun control candidate; even Bernie Sanders is against background checks. Hillary has succeeded in gathering support from minorities living in urban centres due to her voting record on gun control and emphasis on anti-violence policies in her campaign.
Donald Trump, as the Republican nominee, has taken on the party’s values around the right to bear arms. According to Fox News, Donald Trump is running as the “law-and-order” candidate; he frequently uses #MakeAmericaSafeAgain on his Twitter account. Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell if his tweets are tough on crime or tough on minorities.
But Trump’s “Dwayne” tweet didn’t come across as tough on crime to everyone. Throughout his campaign, Trump has been criticized for racist statements against minorities, including “the blacks.” Appropriating a gun violence tragedy for his campaign, particularly one involving minorities he has sidelined, read as opportunistic on social media. Trump’s political views couldn’t be further from those of the grieving family, making the tragedy a poor fit for his campaign. Misspelling Dwyane the more “conventional” way added insult to injury.
Did the tweet impact Donald Trump’s momentum on Twitter?
Trump Falls Out
Caught in the crossfire of a fight that had nothing to do with her, on August 26 Nykea Aldridge was shot while taking her daughter for a walk in her stroller. That night, Dwyane Wade tweeted about his cousin’s death, condemning gun violence. In replies to Wade’s tweet, Trump followers got to him before Trump did.
Donald Trump tweeted at 9:24 AM the next morning, on August 27. By that afternoon, the story had been picked up by most major news outlets and aggregators like Jezebel.
Response from Wade and other outraged Twitter users was swift and brutal. Donald Trump quickly deleted the original tweet and sent out a corrected version, with the right spelling of Dwyane — and the same message.
After retweeting Trump, comedian Don Cheadle asked the candidate to “die in a grease fire.”
Criticism of Trump from other outraged Twitter users quickly followed. Hashtag #dwyanewade took off.
With the misspelt tweet, Donald Trump thrust himself back into the spotlight. Trump, not the tragedy, was at the centre of the conversation around #dwyanewade on Twitter.
After Trump’s tweet on August 27, mentions of the candidate were higher than average on Twitter.
As shown in the graph above, the “Dwayne” tweet didn’t discourage engagement with Trump. His handle @realDonaldTrump received 5,978 mentions on August 27. His corrected tweet, not misspelling Dwyane, attracted 30,523 total likes and retweets. The tweet perceived so negatively received Trump’s average per-tweet engagement, well ahead of his least-engaging tweet over the past two weeks, which received just 5,444 likes and retweets. Donald Trump’s followers seem to be encouraged by outrage from the other side.
Outrage fuels engagement for Donald Trump on social media. By baiting the media with offensive statements, like his criticism of the Khan family or Mexican immigrants, Trump receives more attention and engagement. Since his tweet about the personal strategy of “Dwayne”, his reach on social media and in the news has only increased.
Hillary Sweeps In
Donald Trump goes out of his way to attract criticism from left-wing social media users because it reaffirms his outsider, conservative brand for his voting base. Pillorying the liberal elite ups his conservative cache for Republicans. The more opposition Trump can draw from them, the more authentic and powerful he seems.
Still, in solidifying his base, Trump might be alienating some Republicans. Even right-leaning publications like New York Daily News criticized the “Dwayne” tweet as “insensitive” and “pompous.” As she’s done throughout her duel with Trump, Hillary has leveraged this crisis to her advantage. On Twitter, Hillary reminded followers about Trump’s racist past business practices, like not renting to black tenants.
In the wake of Trump’s calculated misfire, Hillary has used these strategic reminders to undercut the purported sincerity and concern in Trump’s tweet. On August 26, the day after the tragedy, her follower growth spiked.
@realDonaldTrump, on the other hand, experienced a slump in follower growth.
On social media, Donald Trump’s abrasive style is driving high engagement. The candidate’s direct, rousing content strategy earns more like and retweets than the Democrats’ more nuanced calls to action. But his strategy is paying off for Democrats as well. Though the Trump outrage machine drives more hardline conservatives towards him, it also appears to push moderates away — toward Hillary.
Will Outrage Put Trump or Clinton in the White House?
From Elizabeth Warren to Dwyane Wayde, Trump draws liberals into Twitter battles that cannot be won on the terms of common sense or reason. Sensationalist messaging draws the spotlight back to his campaign and his policies, bringing with it higher engagement.
By encouraging outrage, Trump seems to win, no matter the outcome. But his divisive tweets come at a price to his reputation among more moderate voters.