Cash the billion-dollar check, Mr. Trump.
I am no billionaire real estate magnate, but I know a good deal when I see one. If someone is offering you free money, no strings attached, you should take it 10 times out of 10.
Elon Musk made precisely such an offer to Donald Trump when he unbanned Trump’s Twitter account earlier this month. The president should take him up on his offer.
Researchers estimate that the media gave Trump as much as $5 billion in free advertising in 2016. Trump got that deal entirely because of his social media presence. Trump’s Twitter was an absolute force to be reckoned with. The man merely had to get on his phone, type out 240 characters, and he could drive the news cycle for the next day.
You cannot buy that kind of cultural clout. But Trump had the panache, bravado, and raw political instincts to make it work. Conservatives have been completely locked out of other institutions of cultural and political power. But the rise of the social media giants—Twitter especially—proved to be a weakness in the liberal monolith that Trump exploited for full effect.
Controversy drives engagement on social media, but liberals are mostly boring lemmings regurgitating the same cookie cutter opinions: immigration, good; free trade, good; war overseas, good; Everyone to the right of John McCain? Literally Hitler.
Trump shattered this consensus of losers. He burst onto the scene like a comet blazing across the American political sky. Remember in the spring of 2015 when it appeared that we would have a Bush versus Clinton race in ’16? Trump put paid to that idea by simply existing.
Twitter was his superweapon, his unfiltered access to the American people. Complemented by Trump’s boisterous (and hilarious) rallies, the Teflon Don managed to “insult his way to the presidency,” bowling over his low-IQ, low energy competition.
Trump’s charisma and popularity drove his enemies insane. Even now, seven years later, no one within the establishment Left or Right will ever forgive Trump for winning and shaming the entire professional American political class in the process.
Trump faces an uphill battle in 2024. Despite his incredible popularity—no sitting president and no Republican has ever won as many votes as Donald Trump—the entire national security establishment, both political parties, the media, and America’s largest corporations have all dedicated themselves to defeating him. Can the American people and Trump join forces to take on the ruling oligarchy and win, again?
No one can know for certain but Trump’s victory becomes more probable if he can, once again, seize the political megaphone. The regime censored Trump because he was the greatest threat to their continued hegemony. It seems increasingly likely that Joe Biden will not stop at merely silencing Trump. The odds that they attempt to throw him in prison rise with each passing day.
Trump needs every weapon he can get his hands on in this spiritual war. Twitter, arguably, is the most important.
Trump needs to start tweeting. Every day and on every subject from politics to pop culture, vaccines, and Diet Coke. There isn’t a Democrat alive who could rival the messaging power that Trump’s return to Twitter would herald.
So far, Trump has resisted being seduced by Twitter even after unbanning. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense. Trump himself knows how important Twitter was to his win in 2016. So why has he refused to return in power and glory to his old domain?
The answer seems to be Truth Social. Trump’s contract with the company reportedly stipulates that he must post on Truth Social six hours before releasing the same content on any other platform. Trump also has a serious financial stake in Truth Social. This contractual and financial entanglement is likely the leading reason why Trump has refused to return to his most important social media perch. Trump could do so right now, however. He has an opt-out clause in his contract that allows him to post political messaging on other platforms. He should use it.
Trump’s reluctance to leave Truth Social and start using Twitter isn’t an entirely irrational decision. If Trump leaves Truth Social, it will likely mean the end of the platform. This could become a problem later if Twitter decides, once again, to censor Trump’s voice. Truth Social gives Trump a critical ownership stake in his own media megaphone. That is useful.
It is likely that both Trump and his team view Truth Social in the wrong light. They seem to believe that Truth Social can be an effective direct competitor to Twitter. Truth Social is essentially a Twitter clone with many of the same features—“re-Truths,” character limits, and the same timeline/homepage user interface.
Yet Truth Social is losing money. Major social media companies like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok thrive on the network effect. They have a critical mass of users that make them impossible to ignore as a source of news and entertainment. Truth Social does not have that critical mass.
At its current pace, both Trump and Truth Social are likely to suffer. A more free-speech friendly Twitter would eliminate Truth Social’s reason for being. If Truth Social wants to survive, it should reinvent itself. Trump can spearhead this necessary change and benefit in the process.
Instead of Truth Social simply copying Twitter’s model, it should adopt an entirely different strategy closer to that pioneered by Substack. Instead of a free-to-use model that depends on advertising, Truth Social should switch to an entirely subscription-based model.
Users should be required to pay a monthly fee—say, $5—in order to use, and read posts on Truth Social. In essence, Truth Social would become a “walled garden” of free speech permanently protected for American conservatives. It would effectively become Trump’s private Substack but without the intermediaries. Trump could create content only for Truth Social users such as video messages, interviews, and engagement that are platform specific.
There is good evidence that this model could work. Trump has enormous personal loyalty among his base and lots of small-dollar donors and supporters who would be willing to pay for special access to the president. Trump’s recent sale of 45,000 NFTs for $100 a pop sold out in 12 hours. No one else in American political life could manage such a feat.
Right now, Truth Social has roughly 2 million active users. A conversion rate of 5 percent to a paid model (the average expected conversion rate to paid subscribers on Substack) would yield Truth Social a monthly income of $500,000 or six million dollars a year. Right now, SEC filings reveal that Truth Social lost 6 million dollars in the first half of 2022 alone. It is also hemorrhaging users. Building a small but profitable social media company is better than having a larger site that is a money sink.
Trump should restructure his contract with Truth Social to change the kind of content he creates for the platform. He should promise Truth Social longer-form content on a recurring basis. The top 10 Substack newsletters generate tens of thousands of subscribers and $20 million a year. Trump could easily blow those numbers out of the water on his own platform in the long run. He should then use his Twitter presence to boost his campaign and drive users to Truth Social.
Trump should insist that Truth Social take a hands-off approach to censorship as well, by minimizing centralized removal of all but illegal speech. Even Twitter under Musk won’t go that far. Our ruling class very much fears losing the ability to police what Americans are allowed to say.
Truth Social should become a bastion for anonymous online political discourse, right-wing humor, free speech, and Trump’s own longer-form content. This business model, combined with a subscription structure, has the best chance to attain long term profitability and to serve as an effective competitor to both Twitter and Substack by combining the best features of both platforms.
America needs Trump and Trump needs Twitter. He needs unfiltered access to all Americans. Trump should do everything he can to get that access back. He should preserve Truth Social in the process by adopting a model that will sustain the platform for future conservatives. Both aims are not only achievable but necessary.
Trump should not leave Elon’s free money on the table. Instead, he should return to once again conquer social media space.