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Trump uses social media to promote himself, take down opponents

A still image shows a detail of Donald

A still image shows a detail of Donald Trump's Twitter page. Credit: Twitter

He called Jeb Bush crazy and President Barack Obama psycho. He mocked Bernie Sanders and Lindsay Graham. He's tried to belittle political columnists and disclosed a critic's solicitation of a donation.

Donald Trump is using social media -- especially Twitter -- unlike any other 2016 presidential candidate. Or any before.

His relentless use of social media to promote himself and bash opponents has been a key element in his bid in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The barrage of tweets constantly has Trump at the center of attention, stirring the pot, analysts said.

"Obama used Twitter. McCain used Twitter. So it's not new," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist and longtime observer of presidential and congressional elections. "But what Trump is doing is using Twitter as a two-by-four. It's a big part of his campaign and it's effective and it's free. And the media bites every time. And it generates tweets by others about him."

Obama is credited with being the first candidate to harness the power of social media to build a successful campaign. In 2008, Obama built a network of millions of supporters to raise money, counter critics and get out the vote on Election Day -- and created a sort of playbook for future campaigns. But that was different from what Trump is doing so far.

A big part of Trump's effectiveness with social media is that he doesn't "put out the classical political pablum," Sabato said, such as, " 'Here's my position paper on such and such.' Or, 'Here's a photo of my picnic with New Hampshire supporters.' "

Not hardly. Rather than post position papers or picnic photos, Trump has called opponents or critics dumb, dopey or clowns. He accused Jeb Bush of never using his last name on campaign materials, saying, "Is he ashamed of the name BUSH?"

He mocked Sen. Lindsay Graham's (R-S.C.) standing in the polls, saying, "You're only 26 points behind me."

After a protester interrupted a Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) rally, Trump tweeted: "How is Bernie Sanders going to defend our country when he can't even defend his own microphone? Very sad!"

Just days ago, Trump bashed the conservative Club for Growth for what he said was asking for a donation, then tweeted the letter soliciting the contribution in June.

The political action committee fired back, saying Trump asked for the June meeting and "thought he could buy us off." The group is reportedly planning on funding anti-Trump ads.

"The nice thing about Twitter, in the old days when I got attacked it would take me years to get even with somebody," Trump told The New York Times last month. "Now when I'm attacked I can do it instantaneously, and it has a lot of power."

CNN called his use of Twitter "Trump unleashed, in 140 characters or less," referring to the character limit in a tweet. It said some of his tweets were "hateful and downright nasty."

Others see its effectiveness.

"I always thought there would be a candidate that would understand the new way the media works, which is all on, all accessible, at all times, to anybody, whether you're dealing with NBC News or Gawker, or TMZ or Fox News, whoever it is," Chuck Todd, host of NBC's Meet the Press, said recently. "And this idea of all accessibility at all times, which is what millennials certainly expect. I don't think any of us would think Donald Trump would be that candidate that figured that out first, but he did."

That includes some old-fashioned communication techniques -- such as calling in to national political talk shows, noted Kevin Madden, who served as communications director for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign and works as a consultant. That's not something the others probably would consider, he said.

"Trump is different. He gets on his 747, picks up the phone and does four national TV shows before he gets to the airport," Madden said. "The others are taking a more traditional approach to their media strategy and Trump is just freewheeling."

In a realm where scripted answers and stiff photo opportunities dominate, Trump's shoot-from-the-hip approach comes across as more authentic -- an important factor in a time of selfies, reality TV and first-person writing styles -- said Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff.

"Authentic is a big word right now and there is a sentiment that Trump and Bernie Sanders have tapped into that in a way Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have not," Miringoff said, pointing out that Clinton's campaign has promised more spontaneity on the campaign trial.

Plus, Trump is always on.

"New media require feeding the beast regularly," Miringoff said, "and Trump has been successful at doing that."

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