Donald Trump’s appeal derives in no small part from his willingness to present a seemingly unfiltered version of himself. Nowhere is that clearer than on Twitter, where he’s even more more straightforward in his brusque aggression than he is on the debate stage. Nevertheless, his online persona is very much a construct, one built around around his willingness to pander to his supporters, whose messages he cheerfully quotes. In the process, he often amplifies voices that would otherwise go unheard by mainstream audiences. Unsurprisingly, this means that he ends up favorably citing any number of unsavory characters, as was the case last week when he cited a user with the handle “WhiteGenocideTM.”
Now Fusion has made it a little bit easier to keep track of whom Trump is tacitly offering his approval to. The site created a bot called “Trump Retweeps” that quotes the bio of anyone Trump himself has quoted on Twitter. Follow it and you’ll be treated to a steady stream of information about the people backing the GOP candidate. Significantly, this is information that those users have freely posted about themselves—and to which Trump and his campaign have easy access. As Fusion’s Daniel McLaughlin writes, the results help us “better understand the company he keeps.” And though they shouldn’t be a surprise by now, they’re still deeply disquieting.
Trump’s admirers often proclaim their admiration for him in their bios, emphasizing just how powerful his cult of personality has become. Indeed, for many, Trump seems to be a metonym for conservative politics as such (below, bios follow Trump's retweets):
Registered Nurse, Masters in nursing. Loved healthcare business obtained my MBA. Passionate about politics! Conservative, Trump.— Trump Retweeps (@TrumpRetweeps) January 26, 2016
"@Rketeltas: Rubio isn't experienced enough to be Commander in Chief. Rubio is a carbon copy of Obama. We need a true leader Vote Trump"— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2016
Financial Consulting Executive, Conservative Republican Passionate Donald Trump Supporter— Trump Retweeps (@TrumpRetweeps) January 25, 2016
Others provide even starker demonstrations of his appeal, bragging about gun ownership or exhibiting a barely concealed racism:
Conservative supporter of Freedom & Liberty. 2nd Amend Armed, No PC! God Bless America, Jesus, Secured boarders, truth, honor TRUMP— Trump Retweeps (@TrumpRetweeps) January 26, 2016
And some are just needy, begging for attention that Trump seems happy to provide:
Follow 4 Follow. My YouTube channel is called Vladomin, it has many neat videos on it. I am against the left wing and their pursuit to take…— Trump Retweeps (@TrumpRetweeps) January 25, 2016
It’s this last group that may be central to Trump’s appeal. By reaching out to fringe groups and outlying individuals—whether or not he genuinely embraces their views—he gives those who feel they’ve been neglected and ignored the sense that someone is paying attention. Ultimately, then, Fusion’s bot is unlikely to harm Trump, at least with his most rabid supporters. If anything, it may help to demonstrate that there are others like them out there.
For the rest of us, however, Trump Retweeps offers a reminder about what makes Trump so troubling. The man himself is a mercenary, ready to go whichever way the money takes him. His supporters, however, hew to their views so tightly that they make those positions central to their public identities. Fusion’s bot ably exhibits what some of those people believe—and how comfortable Trump is basking in their desire for his attention.