Way back at the dawn of the Modern Age of Online Politics, I semi-predicted the rise of a candidate like Trump. Where? In a little article published on November 5th, 2008 and titled “How the Internet Put Barack Obama in the White House”. After looking at four points where digital tools truly mattered in his fights with Hillary Clinton and later John McCain, I wrapped up on a cautionary note:
A Model for Online Politics?
Last winter, I asked if the Obama campaign would turn out to be a model for online campaigning. Clearly the answer would be “yes” — political professionals will no doubt try to replicate his success for years to come. The next question is, do we want it to be? Is this new political machine the way we SHOULD elect a president, or anyone else for that matter? Populism turns to demagoguery faster than you can say Huey Long, and the tools don’t care who uses them. Progressives beware — the next candidate-of-the-people may not have a message that’s as sweet to your ears as the sound of hope.
Hmmmm, anyone feel the rustle of the devil’s wings over his shoulder? That’s the sense of foreboding I felt, even at the moment of triumph for an internet-enabled political movement I supported.
Of course I didn’t call out Trump by name, and Trump’s style of internet-age politics is radically different than Obama’s. I’d argue that Trump’s political style is a new phenomenon, perhaps one that only a celebrity could pioneer. Where Obama mastered the intersection of political organizing and the internet, Trump has mastered the intersection of MASS MEDIA and the internet.
For Trump personally, for example, Twitter is a lever that helped to pry open the doors to cable TV studios, with social media then sharing his daily outrageousness across the web. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle, a feedback loop sparked by Trump himself but encompassing thousands of citizens, journalists, bloggers and activists, with millions more watching.
What a different animal than Obama For America! Trump is building a movement of his own, one built on his own hot air instead of the usual foundations of a 21st-century campaign: fundraising, field and advertising. The big question is…will it work? Perhaps we’ll find out next week in Iowa, where organization traditionally wins out over campaigns that are broad but shallow in their support. Will Trump rewrite this rule, too?
Top photo by John Stephen Dwyer and courtesy Wikipedia