Former President Donald Trump has finally performed the ultimate internet troll move: the ragequit. Less than a month after launching “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” the blog that was intended to serve as his new mouthpiece to the world is no more, deleted in a pique of petulance that it hadn’t gone mega-viral.
It was clear from the jump that the blog was not exactly poised to replace the shuttered and padlocked Twitter and Facebook accounts that were stripped from Trump in January. When Trump closed down his blog, The New York Times reported that Trump “had become frustrated after hearing from friends that the site was getting little traffic and making him look small and irrelevant, according to a person familiar with his thinking.”
So, what’s next for him? Well, he has his renewed rallies coming up — but those remain dependent on broadcast, print or social media to extend their reach beyond the attendees themselves. Even if, say, C-SPAN airs the footage, there still would be no easily available way for Trump’s team to boost that video. I’m the last person who wants to see Trump gain more traction from exile or grow his following, but if Trump really wants to have a direct pipeline to his supporters, what he needs to do is join the wave of journalists who’ve opted to launch a newsletter. Honestly, it’s a testament to how bad his team is at this game that he hasn’t already.
Newsletters aren’t a new concept in politics — not even ones that espouse racist and inflammatory ideas. Ron Paul, the libertarian former congressman and presidential candidate, spent years in the late 1980s and early 1990s sending out pamphlets to his supporters that were, well, pretty gross. Per The Atlantic in 2011:
"Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal."
"We are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, it is hardly irrational."
After the Los Angeles riots, one article in a newsletter claimed, "Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks."
One referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as "the world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours" and who "seduced underage girls and boys."
Paul denied writing these and other quotes, but The Washington Post reported in 2012 that he “was deeply involved in the company that produced the newsletters, Ron Paul & Associates, and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day.”
In 2021, newsletters have gone digital — and the Trump team has all the infrastructure they need to make it happen, if they wanted. Presidential campaigns rack up massive lists of email addresses to reach out to supporters, both to share information about the candidate and, more importantly, to fundraise. After two campaign cycles, the Trump team must be sitting on a truly enormous list of contacts that would love to hear directly from the 45th president.
The New York Times in 2018 reported that the Trump list could contain information on “as many as 20 million supporters.” And then-Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale told Fox News in 2019 that the number might be much higher thanks to data collected from Facebook: “Cell phone numbers, email addresses, things that we can have direct contact. A good candidate might have 4 to 5 million by Election Day. We’ll probably [have] 40, 50, 60 million.” Take that with a grain of salt considering the source, but either way, that’s a lot of people waiting around.
Those addresses have already been profitable. The Trump campaign, like many others, has rented out its list to other campaigns, which pay good money for access to high-value targets, like people who frequently donate in response to fundraising messages. But imagine how many of those same people would pay a monthly fee to get special missives from Trump himself delivered directly to their inboxes?
That, of course, leads to the question of why the former president hasn’t already set up a newsletter with Substack. Think about it: Part of the appeal of Substack is the lack of editorial oversight that the platform provides. And like Parler — the right-wing social media app that, after a surge following the 2020 election, has seen its popularity collapse — Substack prides itself on being an open forum for free speech.
In 2021, newsletters have gone digital — and the Trump team has all the infrastructure they need to make it happen, if they wanted.
Substack’s CEO and co-founder, Chris Best, spoke with The New York Times’ Kara Swisher for her podcast, "Sway," just weeks after Trump’s deplatforming. Best noted at the time that while there were some limits to what could be disseminated through the service, “our approach, in general, is that we want to broaden the range of what is acceptable discourse and build a system where you can have an actual broad range of discourse.” He did not, however, specifically say Trump wasn’t welcome on the platform.
I reached out to Substack to ask if the company has been in contact with anyone on Trump’s team about utilizing the platform and whether he’d have a place there. As of Thursday afternoon, the company has not responded to my queries. (I’ll update this if they provide an answer.)
Whether on Substack or through whatever distributor they’re using these days, there’s no downside to starting a newsletter pumping Trump’s words directly to his followers. I have to say, it’s such a clearly good idea that I was hesitant to write it down, lest I accidentally will it into existence. If in the next few days, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller announces a new subscription service for Trump fans, I beg you to forgive me for manifesting it.