Like most things on Twitter, it all started as “an exercise in snark.”
Daniel Drezner was simply reading up on the latest political news one morning last April when he came across a Washington Post story about President Trump’s cable TV-watching habits. Drezner, a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, was particularly struck by a paragraph in which an unnamed Trump adviser said there was “no managing” the president during his late-evening TV sessions, so he decided to screenshot the excerpt with a line of commentary:
“I’ll believe that Trump is growing into the presidency when his staff stops talking about him like a toddler,” he wrote, garnering thousands of retweets and likes.
Two days later, after reading a Politico story about how White House officials have to delicately walk Trump though matters of policy and strategy, Drezner did it again. And again, the tweet took off.
At now 166 tweets (and counting) later, Drezner thinks he may have actually surpassed the platform’s capacity for displaying threaded tweets.
“I’m worried I broke Twitter,” he told Boston.com.
The thread has gotten so long that some of Drezner’s most recent tweets at times appear isolated from — rather than linked to — the previous tweet. A Twitter spokesperson said the company is working to fix issues with inconsistent viewing experiences and referred to the platform’s “longstanding technical capacity limitation” on displaying large volumes of replies.
Technical issues notwithstanding, Drezner’s thread has become somewhat legendary in political circles, especially among Trump’s many critics, who believe the president is temperamentally unfit for the office. Drezner says his original tweet in April was intended to push back on the various pundits who were proclaiming around that time that Trump “became president” (which in itself has also become a meme).
“There was the occasional moment when Trump seemed to act almost quasi-presidential,” Drezner said, referring to the president’s speech to Congress in March or the United States military strikes in Syria in April.
However, the stream of anecdotes in Drezner’s thread might suggest the 71-year-old president is stuck in his ways.
In an article for the Washington Post (where he is a regular contributor), Drezner outlined his criteria for including new anecdotes in his Trump-as-toddler thread:
1. The example has to be sourced from an ally of Trump. It doesn’t matter if Democrats or pundits describe the president as having the emotional maturity of a toddler. That’s just partisan politics or conventional wisdom. No, what makes these stories stand out is that these descriptions are coming from fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill in the cabinet or loyal treaty allies or — most often — from within Trump’s own White House staff. The point is, this is how Trump’s most trusted advisers view Trump.
2. The example has to come from a mainstream media news source. No Infowars or RT here, thank you very much.
3. Keep repeats to a minimum. Sometimes there’s a big enough event such that multiple tick-tocks appear, and sometimes they offer up the same anecdote or description. I have tried not to add echoes to a single story onto the thread, although sometimes enough new information appears to merit inclusion.
In the Post article, Drezner has also been curating every tweet in the thread for more convenient viewing. It had reached 166 individual posts as of his count Monday (though Drezner says he fears one or two tweets might have fallen through the cracks).
“It just became a way to remind people that he wasn’t going to grow up,” he told Boston.com. “There’s been no shortage of material.”
Among the most memorable was the detail in Time magazine’s cover story in May that Trump receives two scoops of vanilla ice cream during White House dinners, while everyone else at the table receives one scoop.
“That’s like the most toddler behavior ever,” Drezner said.
There was a point earlier this fall when Drezner says he hit somewhat of a dry patch. But he says the thread picked up pace again, which he attributes to Trump’s personality, as well as the “high burn rate” at which the White House has gone through staffers.
“There’s two reasons the thread could dry up,” he said.
The first is that an adviser like Trump’s current chief of staff, John Kelly, actually cracks on the president’s bad habits. When Kelly was promoted in July, the retired four-star Marine Corps general was predicted to impose more discipline on the Trump White House. However, as Politico reported last week, Kelly efforts to reign in Trump’s “increasingly incendiary” Twitter feed has been a “losing battle.”
“The second [reason the thread could dry up] is that Donald Trump actually grows up,” Drezner said.
However, that possibility, he said, seems “unlikely.”