Trump Facebook Ban Fuels Grievances While Keeping Him Bottled Up

Facebook Inc.’s decision to keep Donald Trump off the platform for at least another six months provides new grist for his grievances but few places to air them.

The decision leaves Trump without his key pathway to communicate with his voters, raise money and drive media coverage. He issues press releases that get minimal coverage and sits for interviews with conservative television networks, but there’s no longer a direct line between the former president and his supporters.

The banner of Trumpism is left for his surrogates to carry on, as House GOP leaders are doing in pushing out the No. 3 Republican, Liz Cheney, for her public anti-Trump stance.

None of Trump’s allies in Washington, however, has the reach Trump had on social media and it’s unclear how many of Trump’s 75 million voters will remain as fervent as they were in 2020 without hearing from him daily.

“It hampers him considerably, but he’s still the leader of the pack,” said Scott Reed, the former chief political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

An oversight board created by Facebook announced on Wednesday that it was upholding Trump’s suspension from the social media platform following his posts about the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. But in an equivocal announcement that prompted bipartisan calls for some legislative control over social media giants, the board recommended that Facebook review his suspension within six months and create transparent rules and standards about who can be banned and when.

Trump is already banned from Twitter Inc., where he built his political brand and generated daily coverage as a candidate and as president. That ban was arguably more punishing than keeping him from Facebook’s self-contained universe of followers.

The ex-president still holds sway in the GOP. After issuing a statement complaining about the Facebook board’s decision, he endorsed Representative Elise Stefanik to replace Cheney as House Republican Conference chair.

Reining in Tech

Trump complained that his First Amendment rights had been curtailed.

“Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth,” he said in a statement that referred to himself as the U.S. leader. “These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price.”

He may see some satisfaction as the move generated bipartisan complaints about Facebook’s decision -- with U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy vowing that if Republicans regain control of the House in 2022, he would work to pass laws limiting social media companies’ power.

And a key Democrat, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone criticized Facebook and other social media platforms for spreading misinformation and said the oversight board wasn’t structured to address this. “It’s clear that real accountability will only come with legislative action,” he said in a tweet.

The former president has been teasing that he’ll start his own social-media platform, but so far has only added a page on his Save America PAC’s website where he has posted his statements so supporters can share them online.

But that won’t generate the media coverage and contact with supporters he’s looking for, said Ed Rollins, a veteran GOP strategist who runs the pro-Trump Great America PAC.

“‘The Main Street media?’ He loves them, and he wants them back,” Rollins said.

Trump also used Facebook as a fund-raising juggernaut, raising hundreds of millions of dollars through pitches for small-dollar donations. He won’t be able to tap back into that base of support to raise money for himself and other candidates and encourage his supporters to back candidates of his choosing.

Trump is endorsing candidates who have been loyal to him and challenging those who weren’t in 2022 congressional and statewide races, and now he’ll have to rely on the candidates to publicize those endorsements.

Trump’s return to Facebook was critical to his political operation, said Eric Wilson, managing director of Startup Caucus, an incubator and investment fund for Republican campaign technology. He said 60% of voters use Facebook every day, more than any other medium, even though his tweets generated more media coverage.

“The elite political conversation is mostly happening on Twitter, while everyday political conversations are happening on Facebook,” he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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