There is a school of thought that believes that Donald Trump never expected to win the presidency and only ran to build his brand, raise the value of the Trump moniker, and help him negotiate a better deal for future seasons of Celebrity Apprentice.
A variation of that belief includes the idea that after his expected 2016 loss, Trump would start his own right-wing news network to compete with Fox News with the help of Roger Ailes, the former CEO of the conservative cable news channel who had recently been ousted from his position atop the propaganda outlet due to extensive charges of sexual harassment by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson and multiple other women under his employ.
Unfortunately for the nation, with Trump’s borscht-assisted victory, we never had the opportunity to discover whether there was any truth to these speculative prognostications.
A new initiative from the president’s reelection campaign, however, leads one to believe that the idea of Trump controlling his own media outlet was not just a paranoid conspiracy theory after all.
According to an article on Politico, the Trump campaign has plans to launch a new smartphone application in the next few weeks that would act as a hub for attracting donations, supporters, and campaign volunteers, while serving as an alternative social network for the president to communicate directly to his base — and most likely to sell them overpriced MAGA merchandise made anywhere but the USA.
Those hapless Trump supporters who download the app and register will be able to reserve tickets for a Trump rally, electioneer on the president’s behalf by canvassing their local neighborhoods or by calling voters, and perhaps even register to vote — assuming that they don’t live in a state where a Republican-controlled government hasn’t made voter registration too difficult as a method of suppressing voter turnout and maintaining their power.
The concept seems to be designed as an attempt to turn normally passive Trump supporters into full-fledged — but unpaid — campaign workers, an idea that will be made easier by employing the same methods our corrupt president has allegedly often used in his real estate career, outright
The marketing component of the app will reportedly utilize the same rewards mechanism that political campaigns have employed for ages to entice their top donors — using prizes such as a selfie with Trump or VIP seats at rallies and events as premiums to encourage Trumpsters to make the app and its pernicious goal of reelecting the president go viral.
Of course, like most social networks, the new Trump campaign app would collect tons of valuable data about the users of its network and could assist his campaign in turning out the president’s supporters on election day as his campaign advisors realize the futility of attracting any heretofore undecided voters to board the Trump train and concentrate on making sure that those with already thoroughly-laundered brains bother to show up at the polls.
“Trump supporters are more dedicated and committed,” said one Republican strategist, Rory McShane, who specializes in digital media. “If there is any campaign where they have a shot at making this work, it’s the Trump campaign.”
According to Politico, Trump’s “campaign has already acquired 200 million voter files from the Republican National Committee and is spending millions on digital ads, texts, and rally attendee RSVPs to collect data on voters. The app could build on that mission, silently gathering preferences about supporters to create profiles that could be used to tailor specific messages to specific voters down to the color of an ad.”
Brad Parscale, Trump’s reelection campaign manager and digital media consultant, said as much during an appearance at a campaign rally last year.
“This is how Donald Trump stays president for four more years,” said Parscale as he held up his iPhone to show the crowd. “Now this phone is how we connect with you. It’s how we turn you into the army of Trump.“
The idea of a Trump Army — likely armed with orders to spend government money at a property owned by the president — sounds bad enough, but the idea that Trump will have even more unfiltered and unaccountable access to the public without even the Twitter terms of service to restrict him is even more horrifying.
Having a closed private social network dedicated to Trump would provide some benefit for the more deplorable among the president’s supporters, however. Anyone posting their support for Trump publicly on Facebook or Twitter announces their political preferences to the world in a way that can expose them to ridicule or confrontation when their more reasonable acquaintances see their posts.
At least in a politically segregated neighborhood, they can feel safe in a cacoon of likemindedness.
“Especially for people who feel intimidated sharing their political views on an open social network, like Facebook or Twitter — they don’t want to get into a fight with their cousin or their co-worker or just get into it at all — here’s the place they know they can share messages and not invite a flame war. They’re going to get likes,”said Thomas Peters, the CEO of the company that designed a much less ambitious app for the 2106 Trump campaign.
Let’s hope that the eventual Democratic candidate has an even more aggressive digital strategy of their own to combat Trump’s private social network, which he can continue to exploit even when he loses his reelection bid.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
Original reporting by Anita Kumar at Politico.