On Monday afternoon, in between griping about media coverage and sharing a “Fox & Friends” tweet about North Korea, President Donald Trump retweeted a 16-year-old kid in Huntington Beach, California.
“We have a President that is putting the security and prosperity of America first. Thank you, President Trump! #MAGA,” wrote Seth Morton, who goes by @Filibuster. His tweet included an emoji of the American flag and a photo of the president boarding Air Force One.
Somehow, out of nearly 80,000 responses to Trump’s tweet that morning, Morton’s caught the president’s eye. He retweeted it within minutes, followed by more than 14,000 others. Another 51,000 people hit the “like” button.
The exchange wasn’t just another example of Trump’s unprecedented reliance on social media to rally supporters. It was an indication of Trump’s desire — and that of his Dan Scavino-led social media team — to cultivate a following among social-media-obsessed youths, a Generation Trump with whom the president can connect, interact and cajole into action via his favorite pulpit.
This wasn’t the first time Trump shared Morton’s material. In late November, Trump quoted one of his tweets as part of a tirade against CNN and one of its reporters, Jeff Zeleny. Trump quoted Morton and three others who slammed Zeleny for coverage casting doubt on election fraud claims. Many outlets noted Morton’s age at the time. Since then, Morton, who did not reply to questions on Twitter, has vied constantly to get Trump’s attention on Twitter. He sent the president the same tweet three times on Monday. And in recent weeks, Morton tweeted at Trump more than 600 times. He’s dug deep into Trump’s catalogue to like tweets as far back as November 2010.
Morton isn’t the only young tweeter to be so elevated to Twitter stardom by Trump. Others gained fleeting recognition but remain active in boosting the president on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Trump retweeted Jacob Wohl, a 19-year-old hedge fund manager in Los Angeles who portrays himself as a “Trumpenomics expert” and finance wunderkind. (His father, David Wohl, is a Fox News legal analyst and self-described campaign surrogate for Trump.)
“President Trump alone has succeeded in bringing the Stock Market, Small Business Index and Consumer Comfort to ALL TIME HIGHS! #MAGA,” Wohl wrote. With a tap of Trump’s thumb, the tweet has now been shared more than 4,200 times.
“I’ve been a supporter since he announced,” Wohl told POLITICO, adding that he first met Trump in May 2016 and wasn’t a big Twitter user before the presidential race.
Wednesday was the third time this summer that Trump shared a post from Wohl. He already had thousands of followers, and his tweets were regularly retweeted by other conservative Twitter rock stars, including some from the pro-Trump Twitter “rooms” mapped by POLITICO. But Wohl’s following nearly quadrupled after Trump first retweeted him.
In late June, Trump retweeted another teenager, @JeffTutorials, who celebrated his 17th birthday last week. A savvy net native who has used Twitter since he was 13, Jeff, who does not share his last name, makes YouTube videos about “Grand Theft Auto” that have been viewed millions of times. Like Morton, Jeff has tweeted at the president hundreds of times in recent months, including several memes spoofing CNN’s logo to “FNN,” for “Fake News Network.”
He said he was very surprised when Trump shared one of these memes, which he guesses was “strongly luck.” Jeff declined to answer whether anyone from the White House got in touch with him, including after he tweeted at Kellyanne Conway.
“It goes to show he reads replies and wants to see what the American people think, not mega-millionaires and the corporate media. I think it’s a great thing,” he said. Jeff saw a brief increase in followers after Trump’s retweet.
Other teenage tweeters haven’t gotten the same bump from the Trump spotlight.
Earlier this summer, the president weighed in on a New Jersey high schooler whose yearbook photo was cropped to remove a “Make America Great Again” logo. The high school junior, Wyatt Dobrovich-Fago, went on “Fox & Friends” in June, and the story drew predictable cries of censorship. After the school yearbook adviser was suspended, Trump’s team sent Dobrovich-Fago more #MAGA gear, posting photos of him on official Facebook and Twitter pages.
Although Trump’s team didn’t mention it, the president actually retweeted the high schooler a couple of years back, when Dobrovich-Fago was just a freshman encouraging a businessman and reality television star to run for president. His was one of many such tweets that Trump shared in early October 2014, when he was amping up criticisms of the Obama administration but still playing coy about a bid.
Dobrovich-Fago was ecstatic.
“Donald Trump just retweeted my post me and him know how to run a country!!!!!” Dobrovich-Fago tweeted with glee. Despite the press coverage, his tweets about Trump’s news conference demeanor, foreign policy toward North Korea, or his own run for senior class president still go out to fewer than 300 followers.
“I think his use of Twitter is brilliant,” Dobrovich-Fago told POLITICO, likening Trump’s social media dispatches to FDR’s “fireside chats.”
These are just the few young people that Trump has engaged with directly. Through Twitter and other social media channels, the president can reach this entire next generation of voters without any filter. He can read their individual messages of solidarity or critique, and instantly elevate supporters’ voices even before they can cast a ballot.
Trump lost the youth vote handily in November — only 37 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 cast ballots for the president, compared with Hillary Clinton’s 55 percent, according to an analysis of exit polls by Tufts University. He drew roughly the same share of this demographic as Mitt Romney did in 2012.
But this bloc is also disproportionately likely to get their political news from social media, Trump’s turf. Teens who can’t yet vote are even more likely to be on social media, although many prefer Snapchat, Instagram or other platforms over Twitter.
“Most people who are active politically online tend to be younger, and those most comfortable sharing their views online are also younger,” said Dr. Vincent Raynauld, an assistant professor in communication studies at Emerson College in Boston who studies social media in politics.
Raynauld noted that Trump’s pattern of tweeting early in the morning or late at night aligns with the “prime hours of social media consumption for younger members.” He also emphasized that Trump is clearly using Twitter not just to broadcast messages, but to listen to supporters, as well.
Dr. Alan Rosenblatt, an expert in the history of online politics, said Trump might be “constrained by the reach of Twitter” because of the platform’s lack of popularity among teenagers. To reach this demographic, both Raynauld and Rosenblatt agree that the president and his staff may look to build a stronger presence on Instagram and Snapchat.
But Rosenblatt, who is director for digital research at Washington-based Lake Research Partners and senior vice president of digital strategy at Turner4D, predicts that Twitter will remain Trump’s favored platform to reach supporters of all ages.
“It’s his hammer,” Rosenblatt said.
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