Joe Poldruhi wasn’t sure what to believe about his local congressional race. He hadn’t heard it straight from Donald Trump.
I had come to Ohio’s 16th District to report on Trump’s vengeance-fueled decision to endorse a political novice named Max Miller in his effort to primary the Republican incumbent — one of the 10 GOP House members who had voted in January to impeach him.
“The little bit that I know about him being endorsed by Trump, I’m not sure I completely understand that. I don’t know if it’s somebody in the Trump campaign that’s saying that or what,” said Poldruhi, 55, a maintenance man who told me he prefers Right Side Broadcasting on YouTube to any particular news network on TV.
Shannon Burns, the head of the Strongsville GOP, was surprised I was surprised. “The Republican base,” he told me after the group’s packed monthly meeting, “is not watching any of the traditional media.”
One reason Poldruhi hadn’t heard from Trump, of course, is that Trump has been banned from major social media for almost four months for his role in stoking the insurrection and the storming of the Capitol by his supporters.
I was struck by how many people at an event meant for energized Republicans seemed to be only vaguely aware of the endorsement Trump had made in a race smack in their area. Trump’s announcement, after all, in late February in an email blast from his Palm Beach perch, had been covered by Fox News, by POLITICO, by the local Plain Dealer newspaper, and by other outlets spanning the ideological spectrum. It was the opening salvo in an expected national campaign of retribution — Trump gunning for every member of Congress who had attempted to oust him. Evidently, though, with some local Republicans, it had hardly registered.
That gap served as a stark reminder of the power of Trump’s incredibly direct connection to his supporters — and perhaps the hidden weakness as well of a strategy that relies so heavily on social media platforms like Facebook. . . . . former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg told me. “The movement he built is omnipresent throughout social media, like a MAGA blockchain. Trump’s power throughout social media is no longer any one verified account,” fellow former adviser Taylor Budowich said. “To really cancel Trump, Facebook and other platforms would have to cancel a majority of their most engaged users.”
Others, though, from internet experts and analysts to political professionals from both parties, remain almost shocked at the extent to which Trump’s been quieted by his Silicon Valley silencing — stripped of his capacity to say exactly what he wants to say whenever he wants to say it straight to what was his aggregate more than 100 million followers on YouTube and Twitter and Facebook.
“He’ll try to spin this thing either way, but the problem is he needs the outlet,” longtime New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told me. . . . . “It’s really important that he have access to that audience,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican strategist who led Marco Rubio’s digital efforts in his 2016 presidential campaign. “The decision on Wednesday is consequential for Trump’s political future — if you’re not there, and not able to shape that conversation, it’s catastrophic.”
“He’d certainly,” said Eli Pariser, the author of The Filter Bubble and the co-founder of Upworthy, “have to be a very different candidate without those platforms.”
He would have to reach his voters and would-be voters not on social media but through more mainstream channels. And for Trump, based on what I heard in Ohio, those channels are broken — because he broke them.
“It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Wilson said, “if you tell your supporters not to trust the media.”
I for one hope every conceivable misfortune overtakes Trump, both politically and personally. The man is a monster and the world will be a slightly better place when he has drawn his last breath.