NEW YORK – If U.S. President Donald Trump really wants to light up the Twittersphere, what should he write about? White supremacists? The wall? Obama? Fighting terrorism?
Nope. Judging from experience, his best bet is just repeating his mantra: “Make America Great Again.”
Welcome to another special edition of the Trump Twitter Filter, where we analyze the behavior of @realDonaldTrump so you don’t have to. This time around, we’ll focus on the president’s most popular tweets — that is, those that garner the most favorites and retweets, which tend to indicate approval. What are the biggest winners? And what do they have in common?
Trump’s No. 1 post by far, with about a million retweets and favorites, is also among his most offensive: a short video in which the president appears to brutally beat a wrestler with a CNN logo for a head — originally created by a Reddit user who had also posted antisemitic and racist imagery. No. 2, by contrast, is exceptionally reasonable: He calls the protests surrounding his January inauguration “a hallmark of our democracy,” saying that “even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”
Beyond such isolated examples, though, one theme shows up more frequently in the top tweets than any other: “Make America Great Again.” He has repeated the phrase 33 times this year. Sometimes it’s all by itself, sometimes with a message such as “Enjoy the #SuperBowl.” A regression analysis suggests that the phrase adds (very roughly) 51,000 to a post’s retweet-and-favorite count, which is a big deal given that the average Trump tweet attracts a total of 107,000. That tops even such big engagement generators as “Obama” and “fake” (as in “fake news”).
What might explain the power of those words? One possibility is that programmers have trained fake automated Twitter accounts, known as bots, to respond to that particular combination. Bots are believed to comprise a significant portion of Twitter traffic, though nobody really knows how much. That said, the hashtag #MAGA — which Trump frequently uses, and which one might expect bots interested in the phrase to pick up — has no discernible effect on engagement.
A second explanation is that the phrase reaches the broadest common denominator of Trump supporters. Even those who don’t like some of his views and policies can get on board with the simple goal of greatness. If this is what’s happening, the mantra might also serve as a sort of barometer of how many people — at least in the Twitterverse — are sticking with Trump despite his often embarrassing and at times reprehensible behavior.
According to Twitter data showing how much engagement each repetition has generated, the phrase’s power doesn’t appear to have waned over the past several months, even as Trump’s approval rating has fallen to levels unprecedented for a U.S. president at this point in his first term. Apparently, despite all Trump has done to aggravate America’s internal divisions and undermine its stature abroad, many denizens of Twitter still like to see him say how great it will be.
Mark Whitehouse writes editorials on global economics and finance for Bloomberg View.