Trump Time Capsule #125A: 'I Never Sent That Tweet You Just Saw'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Sean Spicer on Twitter

Our story so far:

1) This morning, as noted in installment #125, a tweet came out from @SeanSpicer, “strategist” for the Republican National Committee, celebrating the fact that the GOP was about to launch a “Willie Horton-Style Attack” on Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine. You can see a screenshot of it in the previous installment.

2) Three hours later, as blowback began, Spicer put out the tweet you see in the screenshot above. It said that he “never” used the term Willie Horton and that the real factual-accuracy problem was of course with the media, not with him or the RNC.

3) Around the same time, Spicer deleted his original Willie Horton tweet, which then lived on among those who had taken screenshots.

Moral I: In our Modern Internet Age, it’s generally a mistake to strike a huffy “I never said...” “to be clear” “facts are not a strong suit” pose when you’re immediately subject to contrary digital evidence.

4) An alert reader pointed out to me that the contents of Spicer’s original tweet were identical to the headline in the Roll Call article Spicer was sharing with his 32,000+ Twitter followers, and that the Roll Call site can on request auto-populate a tweet with the headline and link from its item.

Thus it’s possible that rather than compose the words “Willie Horton-Style Attack” by himself, Spicer merely wanted to make sure as many people as possible saw them. Great, that’s so much better!

Moral II: If some publication is accusing your campaign of sinking to a nasty race-baiting practice so widely reviled that its originator, Lee Atwater, apologized for it on his deathbed, a shrewd “strategic” response might be: “No, of course we’d never do that.” Or “We’re hoping to heal rather than harm strained race relations in our country.” Or “Once again the press has the wrong.” Or even, “No comment.” Almost anything would make more sense than blast-sharing the story on Twitter to everyone you know.

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I know that RNC operations are separate from the Trump personal domain. Still, I can’t help thinking: as you watch strategy, organization, and execution in this campaign, it becomes easier to understand how Donald Trump could have lost a billion dollars in just one year.