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Months after announcing plans to launch a social media platform, former President Donald Trump is still struggling to come up with a clear plan.
Trump plans to own whatever is built, but beyond that little is known about the new platform, which remains one of the most closely guarded secrets in Trumpworld, according to interviews with close to a dozen Republicans and Trump advisers familiar with his efforts in this area, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their professional relationships. Those advisers who spoke with Yahoo say the former president wants to both control and earn money off whatever option he chooses.
A little more than a month ago, Trump floated the idea of calling his media venture “Trump-it,” according to two sources familiar with his discussions. (Because Trump floated the name verbally, the sources did not know if he meant “Trumpet,” “Trump-it” or some other variation.)
But that idea was quickly discarded. “He said ‘Trump-it the Puppet’ out loud and thought people would make fun of it,” said one Republican.
A Trump spokesperson said the new venture won’t be called “Trump-it.”
It’s the latest trial balloon shot down as Trump tries to retake the national conversation amid talk that he’ll make a third bid for the White House in 2024. Yet the faltering social media strategy also has some of his advisers questioning how serious he is about running again.
Discussions for a Trump Media Group, touted by onetime Trump “Apprentice” star Andy Dean Litinsky, never took off. To launch the effort, Litinsky pushed the idea of using a SPAC, a financial mechanism designed to speed companies onto the stock market, but the former president’s team nixed the idea quickly, according to Trump advisers.
Litinsky did not return a call for comment.
Since being kicked off Twitter and Facebook in January because of spreading disinformation, Trump has lost some of his most pliable tools for driving news coverage. He is now suing to get back on those platforms, a legal battle that has thus far had little traction. A Trump spokesperson, however, said the former president’s legal team is in the process of signing up 94,000 new complainants to the class-action suit who say they were wrongfully banned from the platforms.
In the meantime, talks about buying stakes in other conservative social media outlets have faltered, with the exception of the one run by his former aide Jason Miller. (Miller told Yahoo News the discussions are still underway for Trump to potentially join GETTR, a conservative alternative to Twitter. But another Trump advisor squashed that idea: “It’s not going to be GETTR.”)
A number of other conservative social media sites have courted Trump, still considered to be the single most powerful force in social media on the right, from CloutHub to Skylab. Trump even considered selling his name and expansive base of followers from his now defunct Twitter account to some of the platforms.
The only serious effort underway, according to Republicans close to Trump, is being run by his longtime social media aide Dan Scavino and a handful of developers who meet regularly with the former president. Trump’s oldest son, Donald Jr., is directing a separate but related effort to find a web-hosting service that won’t boot their operation.
“I think he recognizes the complexity. He’s watched these other platforms fail because they couldn’t support the number of users. He wants to be sure that if he stands something up, it works and it’s the right business deal,” said one Trump adviser.
Trump insiders are split on whether he needs an online bullhorn, à la his Twitter feed, which he used to set the national discussion for five years until he was banned in the wake of the violent Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. He was accused of inciting that attack.
Trump still gets routine coverage for his emailed statements and has many supporters on Twitter who regularly retweet his statements and comments. He regularly calls in to a wide range of conservative news outlets around the country.
Yet the lack of a platform puts Trump in an awkward spot as he and his team increasingly tease a third White House run. He has been acting more like a candidate, hosting campaign-style rallies and hinting at a bid in interviews.
“I never conceded,” Trump told a rally of supporters in Georgia last weekend. He’s planning his first rally since leaving office in a key early state, Iowa, this coming weekend.
Some supporters take his sidelining from the mainstream and his need to dominate conservative media as a sign of weakness and a desperate need for some sort of social media presence.
“If he’s doing Hannity hits, that means he’s figured out how screwed he is right now,” said one Republican familiar with his social media travails. “It’s like a tree dropping alone in the forest. You’ve got the loudest mouth in the world, but is anybody hearing it?”
Trump is in a very different position now than when he first used Twitter to disrupt the field of Republican candidates in 2016.
Five years ago he needed constant attention to drive up his poll numbers, then win primaries, then the Republican nomination and ultimately the White House. Now he controls the Republican Party, though without the near-absolute grip he had prior to leaving office.
In a national poll from Politico, 30 percent of Republicans said they would prefer to see Trump run unopposed for the Republican nomination. Twenty percent said he shouldn’t run. And a surprising 39 percent said he should have to fight other Republican candidates for the nomination.
“From Trump’s perspective, he thinks [Twitter] helped him win. The greater question is: Is this a deliberate slow roll to keep Trump off it? Every time he’s off it, his poll numbers are as high as I’ve seen in a while,” said one former Trump campaign adviser.
The former campaign adviser added that it seems more likely Trump’s team just isn’t serious about launching a social media platform for him, since it may only hurt his standing in the polls.
“They’ve all got too many balls in the air,” the former campaign adviser said. “They don’t have one person running point on it. Brad Parscale is running around doing the midterm races. Think a lot of people are wondering how Jason Miller’s thing is going to do.”
As the year has dragged on with little signs of movement from Trump on a social media platform, talk increased that he may end up buying an ownership stake in GETTR, the conservative platform run by Miller and backed by former Trump aide Steve Bannon and a Chinese billionaire at the center of COVID-19 disinformation efforts, Guo Wengui.
“We continue to talk. He has a number of different options in front of him. I obviously think the GETTR option is the best in terms of trying to get the message out and making him a true partner,” Miller told Yahoo News.
Miller said he is convinced Trump will run again in 2024, but has not heard that conclusively from the former president. And if Trump does run, he'll need a social media platform one way or another.
“As the president looks ahead to a possible 2024 run, his superpower has always been his power to bypass traditional media,” Miller said. “In a very biased fashion, I think GETTR is the best option to maintain that superpower.”
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