To Donald Trump’s previous failures as airline owner, football team operator, steak entrepreneur, magazine publisher, university proprietor, casino owner, mortgage lender, vodka merchant and all the rest, prepare to add failed social media entrepreneur to the list. According to Trump adviser Jason Miller on Fox News on Sunday, the former president will start his own platform “in probably two or three months.” Trump has held “high-powered meetings” about the startup at Mar-a-Lago, Miller added. “This is something that I think will be the hottest ticket in social media.”
This idea, which deserves to be catalogued next to the trial balloon the Trump camp sent up at the beginning of the year about him starting his own TV network, has little to no chance of succeeding as a business venture. Like the vaporous trial balloons he sent up during his presidency—to replace Obamacare, defeat Covid-19, not play golf because he would be too busy working, eliminate the federal deficit, get Mexico to pay for the wall and release his tax returns—this new Trump promise by proxy to take on Facebook and Twitter, which banned him after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol for glorifying violence, is doomed to crash like the Hindenburg.
Standing up a social media platform is so completely outside of Trump’s areas of business expertise—real estate, resorts and licensing—that if he does succeed in launching it, there’s very good reason to expect it will flame out the way his other dilettantish forays into airlines, sports, education and booze did: with losses and lawsuits. Silicon Valley has been filled to overflowing already with the compost of social media ventures—Friendster, Vine, FriendFeed and Yik Yak, just to name a few—that failed to dethrone Facebook and Twitter. Most notably, Google, whose parent company now has a market cap of $1.4 trillion and which knows a thing or two about technology, made at least four runs at creating a social media company to compete with Facebook: Google Buzz, Google Wave, Orkut, and Google+. All failed miserably. What does Donald Trump have that Google didn’t?
Well, Trump’s people would tell you, he has the effervescence of Donald Trump! When Trump’s Twitter account was revoked in January, he had almost 90 million followers. Surely, some of those will follow him to a new social media site, but even millions following one guy won’t be enough to make the site viable. If you want to follow one guy, signing up for his email service is enough. But people open social media accounts to reach whole, expanding networks of people with varied interests. A thriving social media site allows you to itch all the niches of your personality. You might come for politics but also be looking for other people who share your interest in wine or movies or macramé or the Cistercians. A social media site based primarily on an allegiance to the monoculture represented by Trump and his political positions would soon become pretty boring for even the dead-endingest of Trump dead-enders. If too identified with Trump, the new platform would become an anti-social media site and repulse people. If not identified enough with Trump, the new platform would cease to have any reason to exist. So, why bother?
One of the reasons Trump’s social media presence became essential reading was that as president his every utterance and burp made news. If he tweeted a promise to incinerate some foreign foe, everybody wanted to be there to hear it firsthand, especially liberals who despised and feared him. But reduced now to a geriatric golf cheat whose only true power comes from political fundraising and supporting candidates who will primary his Republican enemies, Trump’s clipped messages have lost their former valency and there’s nothing he can do, short of regaining the presidency, to win his old network back. Trump’s political potency depends on convening an audience of not just Trumpies but other conservatives and a good number of liberals who feel a need to monitor him. You can’t own the libs if the libs aren’t listening.
A smarter play for Trump would be to find a social media host that he could devour parasitically the way he did the Republican Party. Both Gab and Parler would be excellent choices for Trump. In fact, he already seems to have taken a run at Parler, according to a February story in BuzzFeed, which reported that the Trump Organization and social media upstart Parler had negotiated giving Trump a 40-percent interest in the company if he made it his primary social network. This would work to Trump’s satisfaction because it would cost him nothing—he loves using other people’s capital in his businesses—and it reunites him with Rebekah Mercer, who co-founded Parler and whose family supported his campaigns. But the limitations of starting his own site are only mirrored at Parler. He could bring in more of his supporters and curious looky-loos, but that would still not make for the variety needed to establish a vibrant social media network. Another downside is that Parler has only a reported 15 million users compared with Twitter’s 187 million, and its smartphone app has been banned by both Apple’s app store and Google Play for not moderating messages promoting violence, limiting its usability.
Perhaps the greatest limitation to a Trump-led social media entity is Trump’s narcissistic personality. Would he be willing for his social media site to grow into a space that might threaten his propagandistic ambitions? It seems illogical. For as long as we’ve observed Trump, we’ve known that he looks inward only and has no skill at internalizing other people’s personalities, ideas or motivations. We can only laugh at a two-dimensional man who hopes to become a mogul in the three-dimensional world of social media. He’d be better off reentering the steak business.