Opinion

Could Elon Musk put Donald Trump back in the White House?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Elon Musk said this week he's inclined to let former President Donald Trump back on Twitter if the Tesla and SpaceX CEO's $44 billion deal to buy the social media site goes through. Musk is a self-styled free-speech absolutist, and he says Twitter's 2021 decision to permanently bar Trump from the platform for inciting his supporters ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was "stupid" and "morally" wrong. Musk said the ban "alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice."

Trump continues to make news through public appearances, interviews with friendly news outlets, and official statements distributed to the press, and he has launched his own social media platform, Truth Social, where he can say anything he wants. Trump has been demonstrating his enduring power in the Republican Party through endorsements in the primaries ahead of the fall mid-term elections, as he considers whether to run for the presidency again in 2024. Still, Trump, who had 88 million Twitter followers, hasn't been controlling news cycles the way he used to. Would a return to Twitter help Trump get back into the White House? 

Musk would be giving Trump a path to victory in 2024 

"Trump's long Twitter time-out has quite effectively pushed him out of the media spotlight," says Jill Filipovic at CNN. When Trump could Twitter-bomb his enemies, "he owned the news cycle." His "unapologetic bigotry sent the left reeling and created a culture of permissiveness on the right." Twitter helped him keep any Republicans unhappy with his "antics" or policies too afraid to challenge him. 

Trump has said he plans to focus on Truth Social and wouldn't return to Twitter. "But it's hard to imagine a man with such itchy Twitter fingers" staying away for long if Musk invites him back. In 2024, "four years of boring competence," along with "a rough economy and rising consumer prices," will overshadow the memory of four years of "chaos and ineptitude" under Trump. He'll need to "motivate and win over" people who have tuned out politics since he left office. Reclaiming his most effective soapbox "might just be his path to victory." 

Returning to Twitter would be a mistake for Trump

Getting booted from Twitter has "helped Trump," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. His tweets kept him in the spotlight, but that meant constant discussion of "the daily controversies that dominated his presidency and were a major reason he lost to Joe Biden, of all candidates." If Trump goes back on Twitter, "picking fights on an hourly basis and blaming everyone else for his election defeat, he might remind voters why they grew tired of his antics and made him a one-term president." He's better off leaving the focus on Biden's inflation and "the relative policy success of the Trump years."

It's not clear Trump needs Twitter, anyway, says Zachary B. Wolf at CNN. He has been banished from Twitter and out of office for more than a year, but he is nevertheless "having a resurgence." He has his own platform, Truth Social, and has said he'll focus on that.  He gets lots of media coverage for his endorsements in the Republican primaries, and "Trump-backed candidates have mostly won." Even candidates he didn't endorse are "swearing fealty to him." Musk can offer to give Trump his Twitter "bullhorn back," but whether he feels he needs it is an "open question."  

Democracy would be the real loser

Regardless of what a return to Twitter would mean for Trump, says Nicholas Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times, it would be a disaster for America. Trump is "a liar." And his biggest lie — that he really won the 2020 election — poses an ongoing threat to our very democracy. Remember, he got kicked off the platform to avoid the "risk of further incitement to violence" after tweets he posted, as president of the United States, "just before and after the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol." Inspired by his lie that the election had been stolen from him, a mob of his supporters tried to prevent lawmakers from certifying his election loss so there could be a peaceful transition of power to the duly elected president, Joe Biden.

Musk has suggested that "this kind of thing would better be handled by deleting or hiding troubling tweets and occasionally by temporarily suspending people who violate the rules," but anyone who has paid attention to how Trump operates knows he wouldn't "be chastened by a week or two off the platform. A slap on the wrist is not enough disincentive for a serial prevaricator and stubborn, irresponsible demagogue." Twitter has grown "so big and powerful" that it can turn elections. A company so influential needs to show some responsibility, and keeping Trump's Twitter feed silent is the responsible thing to do. Twitter does not "owe him a megaphone."

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