May 5, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Social media's "in-kind contribution to Biden"

Photo illustration of President Biden with a Facebook thumbs up in place of his hand

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Facebook's continued suspension of Donald Trump's account extends the silencing of Joe Biden's most potent critic — and the current president's control over the national political narrative into his second 100 days.

Why it matters: Biden has been able to successfully focus on COVID-19 relief, his infrastructure plan and fielding his new administration, in part, because Trump hasn't been able to shake his social media muzzle and bray about the migration crisis or any White House misstep.

  • "Social media bans on Trump are basically an in-kind contribution to Biden," Cliff Sims, a former Trump White House official, told Axios.
  • It's the second lucky political break for Biden in a year, after the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic curtailed the kind of traditional campaigning and media events prone to produce gaffes by a famously long-winded politician.

Trump's social-media savviness proved to be his most effective way of communicating directly with his supporters, whether as a candidate or president.

  • Not only did he have a direct line to his followers, but he got the instant psychological boost of seeing his Twitter "Likes" spin upward and small-dollar donations pour into his Facebook account.
  • Since Trump was banned from both Twitter and Facebook over his insistence the November election was rigged and for allegedly inciting the Capitol insurrection, other Republican leaders have struggled to fill the void.
  • Their attacks on Biden's policies haven't seemed to stick.

The new president's approval rating has remained steady at about 53%-54% — several percentage points higher than Trump's rating during the same time of his presidency, according to FiveThirtyEight data.

What they're saying: "Trump tends to railroad the national agenda, and it’s been beneficial to have the agenda focused (on) President Biden’s administration," Abhi Rahman, a Texas Democratic strategist, told Axios.

  • Sims, the former Trump aide, said Biden "doesn’t have to worry about Trump firing off a tweet and quickly elevating issues the administration doesn’t want to talk about."

The other side: With or without Twitter and Facebook, Trump holds remarkable sway over Republican political candidates and primary voters.

  • "Nothing that any social media platform has done has diminished the incredible power that Trump still has over the Senate Republican primary process," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein told Axios.

And some Republicans see a silver lining in the decision by the Facebook Oversight Board to extend the company ban on Trump's bombastic account.

  • "People voted for Biden because he wasn’t Trump. Without Trump, he has to be something," one Republican consultant told Axios.
  • "This gives Republicans an opening to attack that image without having the baggage of Trump’s style in the way.”

What to watch: If Republicans regain power in Washington, it's likely they'll go after Twitter and Facebook in a much more focused manner.

  • Following the Facebook news, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) — head of the Republican Study Committee, the largest bloc of House conservatives — said: "If Facebook is so big it thinks it can silence the leaders you elect, it’s time for conservatives to pursue an antitrust agenda."
  • Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said simply: "Break them up."
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