WASHINGTON — The hallmark of President Trump’s Twitter feed is that it sounds like him — grammatical miscues and all.
But it’s not always Trump tapping out a Tweet, even when it sounds like his voice. West Wing employees who draft proposed tweets intentionally employ suspect grammar and staccato syntax in order to mimic the president’s style, according to two people familiar with the process.
They overuse the exclamation point! They Capitalize random words for emphasis. Fragments. Loosely connected ideas. All part of a process that is not as spontaneous as Trump’s Twitter feed often appears.
Presidential speechwriters have always sought to channel their bosses’ style and cadence, but Trump’s team is blazing new ground with its approach to his favorite means of instant communication. Some staff members even relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, believing that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within his base that he has the common touch.
His staff has become so adept at replicating Trump’s tone that people who follow his feed closely say it is getting harder to discern which tweets were actually crafted by Trump sitting in his bathrobe and watching “Fox & Friends” and which were concocted by his communications team.
Those familiar with the process wouldn’t fess up to which tweets were staff-written. But an algorithm crafted by a writer at The Atlantic to determine real versus staff-written tweets suggested several were not written by the president, despite the unusual use of the language.
“Looking forward to greeting the Hostages (no longer) at 2:00 A.M.” someone tweeted from Trump’s account at 6:41 p.m. May 9. The Atlantic’s analysis pegged it 17 percent likely written by Trump, based on a complex comparison with past Trump tweets.
Staff-written tweets do go through a West Wing process of sorts. When a White House employee wants the president to tweet about a topic, the official writes a memo to the president that includes three or four sample tweets, according to those familiar with the process.
Trump then picks the one he likes best, according to the two people, neither of whom wanted to be named because they’re not authorized to talk about the operations. Sometimes Trump will edit the wording and sometimes he’ll just pick his favorite for blasting out to his 52 million Twitter followers.
While staff members do consciously use poor grammar, they do not intentionally misspell words or names, one person familiar with the process explained.
“Tweets that are proposed are in his voice,” said one of the people. “You want to do it in a way that fits his style.”
Dan Scavino, who is the White House director of social media and keeper of Trump’s twitter account, didn’t respond to a request for comment. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
The process is quite different from how other leaders have operated.
Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 campaign famously required 22 different people to sign off on a Tweet, a laborious process that robbed any sense of spontaneity or authenticity from the messages. But they were grammatically sound.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also had controls in place intended to be sure their messages were largely spotless.
It’s been long understood that some of Trump’s tweets are composed by his staff. During the campaign, Trump used an Android phone to tweet while most of his staff used iPhones. This provided a reasonable guide to determine whether or not a tweet came directly from him.
But now Trump has an iPhone, making it more difficult to determine the true author. To help with this there’s also a Twitter account called @TrumpOrNotBot that rates the authenticity of Tweets sent via Trump’s personal account.
“When the Twitter account is so central to his identity, it was interesting to know if a message is from his voice or is staff-written,” said Andrew McGill, a senior product manager and writer at The Atlantic, who created the bot. He launched the project in March 2017.
McGill’s program analyzed hundreds of tweets written by Trump before he was president and detected patterns in his use of language.
Each tweet sent from the president’s current account is compared with the older ones, and the bot assigns a percentage chance that Trump was the real author of each message.
On Sunday, for example, the president issued a tweet focused on the private server Hillary Clinton used when she was secretary of state. “What ever happened to the Server, at the center of so much Corruption, that the Democratic National Committee REFUSED to hand over to the hard charging (except in the case of Democrats) FBI?” McGill’s bot found there was a 96 percent chance the message was written by Trump.
The bot found there was only a 36 percent chance that a message sent Thursday was drafted by the president: “Tomorrow, the House will vote on a strong Farm Bill, which includes work requirements. We must support our Nation’s great farmers!”
But McGill suspects his bot has gotten less accurate over time. “They’ve gotten increasingly sophisticated about mimicking him online,’’ he said.
Some clues are still seen as reliable. Tweets that include photographs or videos are likely composed by staff. And ones that have hashtags are also likely staff-written, McGill said.
Martha Brockenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, said that the president’s disregard for standard English plays into the public persona he has created for himself that he’s a man of the people, despite his billions.
“Grammatical conventions tend to be elitist and always have been,” said Brockenbrough. “The lack of regard for it, and the fact that he’s now having American tax dollars fund people to ape his style, is meant to poke people like you and me in the eye — people for whom language matters.”
Trump’s grammatical gaffes often spark rounds of online mocking — debates that Trump doesn’t mind having.
“If the political conversation is about Donald Trump’s typos, that plays into the narrative that the coastal elites don’t understand ordinary Americans who make typos,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. Farnsworth recently wrote a book on how presidents connect to supporters.
But the country’s most sophisticated guardians of language say there’s a more insidious motive for Trump’s disregard for the rules of English.
“The president’s use of language, like his White House, is chaotic. But that is not necessarily a problem in itself,” said Langdon Hammer, chairman of Yale University’s English Department. “It’s what he uses language for — the strategic interests served by his sloppiness.”
Hammer said that Trump’s particular style allows him “to speak vaguely, equivocate, insinuate, inflame, and intimidate.”
The consequence, according to Hammer: “He doesn’t treat speech as something to stand by and take responsibility for. Sad!”Annie Linskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.