What On Earth is Trump Doing Between Tweets?
He consistently takes five-minute pauses to complete a thought.
There’s something odd with the way Donald Trump tweets. It’s not just that he does it — though that’s pretty weird for a president-elect, if Obama’s two-tweet transition in 2008 is any benchmark — but that topic is beyond exhausted. It’s not even when he does it—very late and very early—which has also been widely noted.
What I want to talk about is a perturbing and previously un-discussed quirk in the way Donald Trump posts multi-tweet screeds.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. Let’s see if you can spot it:
Keen observers will note the timestamps. Seven minutes elapsed between these two posts.
Bathroom break, perhaps? Seems unlikely, but who knows! Given that the second tweet is merely the latter half of a single sentence, it’s strange that it took Donald Trump seven minutes to finish a very simple thought.
Maybe it was an aberration. Let’s assess:
Hmmm, let’s see… we had five minutes between the first two, then ten, followed by another five-minute pause to close the four-tweet thread. That would be a lot of bathroom breaks.
Let’s see what else we have:
How might this have gone down? It’s possible Trump started his statement — we don’t bow to China, they’re screwing the American working class, etc. — but realized midway through he needed some new material. The jobs and tariff stuff is a bit stale, after all.
Did he pause to research other points of diplomatic tension between the U.S. and China? Trump, dismissive of intelligence briefings and an unenthusiastic consumer of non-Trump-related world affairs, likely lacks a nuanced understanding of Asia-Pacific’s most contentious geopolitical issues. If he intended to make a well-balanced statement rooted in a larger diplomatic strategy, he’d probably need to consult with someone on the issues.
But somehow that feels too deliberative, given what we know about the president-elect. If you’re actually concerned about the details of your statement and the implications of what you’re planning to say, why start tweeting before you’ve decided on a messaging strategy?
What about that tweetstorm where he strangely announced that the “UNITED STATES IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS,” how did that one come together?
All over the map! The first three pauses lasted eight minutes, before a *sixteen*-minute mid-sentence pause. From there, it was another two minutes before he concluded the series.
This is a very weird way to tweet!
It even happens when he’s quoting someone else. For example, as Jill Stein’s futile and largely irrelevant recount effort gained steam, The Donald opined:
Six, seven, ten, five, six. This one is so weird — he was quoting someone! How were these not ready to go in one more-or-less immediate blast?
(He also sort of screwed up the quote, but... Character limits are hard!!)
There are a few possible explanations. That he’s considering the next tweet in terms of messaging, as noted above, seems unlikely.
Could it be that, between all these tweets, Donald Trump is wrestling with spelling and syntax and phrasing? That he’s carefully crafting each tweet in real-time? Second-guessing the delivery, trying to grapple with character limits, seeing what works by trial and error?? We all do it! That our president-elect does so as well is not outside the realm of possibility, and these tweets were all sent from an Android device. (When tweeting on his behalf, his staff uses an iPhone or web client.)
Plus, the idea of Trump sitting at his desk formatting multiple tweets to create a single sentence or narrative, often for periods close to an hour — brow furrowed, shoulders hunched, mouth puckered, his tiny fingers furiously pecking away — is hilarious (also: believable and kind of scary).
Another option is that it’s a strategic play to monopolize eyeballs for as long as possible. Take this week, for example, in two posts aimed at quelling public concern around his potential conflicts of interest:
In the six minutes between these tweets, it’s easy to imagine the Twitterati on their toes, waiting to learn what, exactly, Donald Trump was going to focus full-time on. Are these pauses a legitimate strategy for engaging more people? Ehhh… he’s the president-elect, and everyone’s already breathlessly parsing every one of his tweets, for better or worse — whether they’re posted over two minutes or 40 makes no difference. (Just ask Lockheed Martin!) A few moments of suspense wouldn’t meaningfully change the equation from a strategic perspective.
Another theory seems awfully small, even for Donald Trump: he’s just getting his jollies and loves to lord over the peasants beneath him. We can be certain that every journalist and pundit who saw the first tweet did little in the interim apart from speculating about tweets to come and preparing their own Twitter take — and he hates journalists and pundits! Perhaps that small bit of power simply gets him off, however alarming such petty behavior would be.
The most depressing possibility is that he doesn’t have the attention span to maintain a tweetstorm in real-time, lacks the awareness to know that tweetstorms in general are Capital-B Bad and that if it requires more than one or two posts there’s probably a better venue for the message, and doesn’t possess the foresight to prepare these things in advance.
Someone please help. I don’t know what to make of it. What on earth could he possibly be doing between these tweets?
James Richard Weir is based in Shanghai, where he previously covered Chinese healthcare policy and currently works in communications.