How Twitter king and Congressman Ted Lieu is beating Trump at his own dumb game

April 15, 2017
In The News

It's depressing to admit, but let's do it anyway: there are few politicians in the world more skilled at manipulating Twitter than President Trump. 

So over the past few months, 48-year-old Congressman Ted Lieu (D-California) has decided to try and master the platform, slowly emerging as the President's most adept social media opponent. It might seem like an embarrassing game to play — after all, world leaders don't historically conduct foreign policy in 140 characters or less.

But if President Trump is going to insist he stay on the platform, Congressman Ted Lieu will be there, too. If nothing else, Lieu's tweets give liberals something they've been begging of their leaders since November: anger.

"I did not set out to resist this President," Lieu told Mashable. "After the November election I issued a public statement: What makes America great is our peaceful transfer of power. He won the electoral challenge. Give him chance to govern."

Lieu sat on that statement for a few weeks.

"By the beginning of January, I came to the conclusion I was wrong."

How Lieu went from under 10,000 followers to over 150,000 in oh, 90 days

Lieu keeps two Twitter accounts. His official account, which is run by his staff, is clean and polished — exactly what you'd expect from your local representative. 

His personal account, by contrast, is refreshingly direct. Imagine for a second if your local politician got to say what they actually . . . felt.

There's angry tweets.

Dear @POTUS: You are right that Obama officials spied on your team. B/c there was PROBABLE CAUSE AGENTS OF A FOREIGN POWER WERE ON YOUR TEAM

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) April 12, 2017

There's funny-angry tweets.

Tillerson's ignoring of question on chemical weapons in Syria & his poor performance as SoS is alarming. So I made this cheat sheet to help.

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) April 4, 2017

Based on recs from folks on Twitter, I updated the sign outside my Congressional office. Added "Period" to #AlternativeFacts Free Zone.

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 25, 2017

Last time I checked, a person won't die if she can't afford cable or if it didn't include HBO. But very sick patients w/o insurance will die

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) April 5, 2017

Was charged $2.99 for coffee listed at $2.59. That's why I have trust issues. Oh, and the fact that @seanspicer at #WhiteHouse makes shit up

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 23, 2017

Through his Twitter account, the Congressman has catapulted to a cultish delightfully nerdy social media stardom. Post election, Lieu has made multiple appearance on cable television, including MSNBC and Real Time with Bill Maher

If you're a politics junkie who likes to follow Congresspeople on Twitter — or even if you aren't, even if just really, really hate Donald Trump — you've probably liked a Lieu tweet without realizing it.

Lieu gives the platform credit for lending him access to voters he wouldn't normally be be able to reach.

"Consider that 20 years ago, a person who wanted to have discussion with their member of Congress would have to call their office. Now people tweet at me," Lieu said. "I can engage in multiple different conversations with people on Twitter — it's actually a more intimate way of contacting someone."

He's got the fourth highest Twitter following in the House of Representatives, just under California social media powerhouses including Adam Schiff, Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi.

His next question is what to do with it all.

Lieu is trying to focus people's attention in a medium designed to destroy it

Part of the problem with a Twitter presidency is that it generates so many outrages it's almost impossible to keep up with them. Between MOABs, Mar-a-Lago nuclear football selfies, and Sean Spicer's daily stream of WTF, it's impossible for everyone to know what to stay angry about and consequently what to do.

That's why Lieu wants to focus everyone's attention on one major story, if they can:

"The most important story is that our potential collusion and Donald Trump and his associates and Russia," Lieu said. "That has the potential to affect the legitimacy of his presidency."

Lieu believes that the facts alone would break through a seemingly impenetrable GOP wall in Congress. 

"You're seeing some Repuclicans now – not just Mccain and Graham — you're seeing others in the House call for a special prosecutor," Lieu said. "The FBI counterintelligence unit will find [the facts] and deliver them to the American public. Every day we see bad things about the Trump team and Russia. This leads me to believe we're going to see even worse."

It's why Lieu's Twitter feed has continued to follow the Russia story, even as he tries to keep abreast of the day's daily outrage.

Despite everything, Lieu actually has . . . hope

"President" @realDonaldTrump threatens to hurt the lives of Americans out of spite. Retweet if this makes you angry.

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) April 12, 2017

All signs point to the Congressman having a pretty depressing outlook for the next four years. Trump is on the "road to authoritarianism," Lieu says. Democratic power is at an all time low, and divided. A major of travel ban supporters think the Bowling Green Massacre is real.

Still, Lieu remains confident. The former US Air Force officer was born in Taiwan and spent his first few years of his life living in a someone else's basement. He's now a Congressman who still believes people can realize the American dream. 

It just doesn't happen without activism.

"I believe the Democrats will take back the house in a year and a half. It's like when Obama first ran for office," Lieu said.  "We're seeing people not traditionally involved in politics get involved. Younger people getting involved. "

Lieu just wants people to do something — and that, yes, includes more than just tweeting. 

"It can range from doing something as simple as writing a letter to the editor on an issue they're upset with. Attending marches and rallies. Giving money. Registering people to vote. Working on a campaign. It's up to folks, but everyone should try and get involved in something." 

"It's time in America when we have an all hands on deck moment. It's all so critical."