Setting Twitter bird free ruffles feathers beyond White House
Trump lets messages fly direct to the people
President-elect Donald Trump’s persistent use of Twitter to feud with critics, rail against big-ticket Pentagon programs or just spout off is widely ridiculed as unpresidential and dangerous, but it remains to be seen whether his tweets will be a boon or bust when he takes office.
Mr. Trump on Monday took aim at Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program with a tweet declaring that the “cost is out of control” and vowing to strike better deals on the fighter jet and other government contracts when he gets into the White House.
“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
It was the second time in as many weeks that Mr. Trump took to Twitter to blast Pentagon spending.
Last week, he urged the cancellations of Boeing’s $4 billion contract to build a new Air Force One fleet, which was followed by an abrupt but temporary drop in the company’s stock price.
“Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” tweeted the president-elect.
Lockheed Martin’s stock price took a hit after the tweet Monday. Shares dropped more than 5 percent but climbed back. The stock closed at a per-share price of $253.11, down more than 2 percent.
Mr. Trump took to Twitter later on Monday to gloat on his expanded victory margin in the Wisconsin recount for which liberals pushed and to announce that he would make public Tuesday morning his choice for secretary of state.
Mr. Trump also has hurled insults at a local union leader in Indiana who criticized him and at actor Alec Baldwin for an unflattering portrayal of the president-elect on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary during the Clinton administration, said he has a message for Mr. Trump: Cut it out.
“Let me just say, with all due respect, Mr. Trump, you are president-elect of the United States. You are looking and acting as if you are mean and petty, thinskinned and vindictive,” Mr. Reich said recently on CNN.
Political analysts, however, split over whether Mr. Trump’s tweets would harm his image as president or reinvent and revitalize the president’s bully pulpit.
“I would hope that he’d continue to use Twitter even as president, as it is a natural medium of communication for him,” said John P. Wihbey, a journalism professor at Northeastern University who studies presidential communication.
“It is useful for citizens to know what he’s thinking about and his ideas on policy issues. I’m all for a politics, and a political communications strategy, that engages more with citizens in a straightforward and truthful way,” he said.
Mr. Wihbey also suggested that Mr. Trump tone down his rhetoric and refrain from name-calling.
“He needs to embrace his role as an example for young people, in particular,” he said.
Towson University communications professor Richard Vatz, who specializes in political rhetoric, said continuing to tweet as president is a bad idea.
“It diminishes the stature of the presidency to use a communication vehicle that limits reflection and the amount he can say. Moreover, to take on minor opposition raises them and lowers the president,” he said.
Communicating though Twitter also maximizes the chance for miscalculation in crafting messages, which can have profound global implications, Mr. Vatz said.
“For presidents historically, there is a buffer, wherein Cabinet members state positions sometimes as trial balloons. If it’s the president, there is no buffer,” he said. “In plainer English, for those of us who anticipate that he may be prone to act without thinking, tweeting maximizes said possibility.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed, although he doesn’t think Mr. Trump has to give up Twitter.
“I think it is very good for him to tweet. I think the country gets into it. I think it has been effective for him, but he’s got to have an editor,” Mr. Gingrich said on Fox News’ “Your World.”
“He can’t just sit there — and I say this as a guy who’s done the same thing — can’t sit there and at 11:15 at night have some whack ideas and then send it out to the entire planet,” Mr. Gingrich said. “He’s going to be president of the United States. He’s no longer a rich businessman. He is now in the most important, the most powerful secular job in history. And he’s got to grow into that.”
Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller said the president-elect sent the correct message in the tweet about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
“The clear message that is being sent is that the president-elect is going to fight to save taxpayers money at every turn,” Mr. Miller told reporters in a conference call. “That we are fighting for taxpayers was one of the key campaign promises for the presidential trail, and it’s good that the president-elect is holding folks’ feet to the fire on this.”
A week before Mr. Trump won the Nov. 8 election, the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin agreed to their ninth contract for 90 F-35 fighter jets after more than a year of negotiations, officials said.
The contract was valued at up to $7.18 billion, and the company received an interim payment in November.
Mr. Trump pledged during the campaign to make better deals and save taxpayers money.