In a profile of White House social media director Dan Scavino published in The New York Times Magazine, writer Robert Draper seems puzzled at Scavino's role in the Trump campaign and administration. Throughout the piece, Draper attempts to answer the question: What does this guy do all day?
From the article:
Scavino was another of the “originals” on Trump’s 2016 campaign, and I saw him numerous times on the trail, but I could never quite ascertain what he was doing to further his boss’s presidential ambitions. Aggressively nondescript, Scavino could often be seen in a suit at the side of the stage, taking photos of the immense rally crowds with his iPhone and later, while scowling at his laptop aboard Trump’s 757, posting the images to Facebook. … Scavino’s sole task, from what I could tell, was to document Trump’s popularity.
My perplexity over Scavino deepened after Inauguration Day, even as he got an official title: assistant to the president and director of social media, a position that had never existed before and one that paid him the maximum White House staff salary of $179,700. The Trump White House continued to employ an official photographer (Shealah Craighead) as well as a chief digital officer (Ory Rinat). This small digital team shared a suite across the street, in the Executive Office Building. But Scavino got an office on the ground floor of the West Wing, just down the hall from the leader of the free world.
Draper spends the rest of the article trying to grasp Scavino’s role and why it matters. He comes to the conclusion that Scavino’s most important job is minding President Donald Trump’s Twitter account.
The only official function Scavino filled that might justify his salary and his prime White House real estate was detailed in the lawsuit’s [over Trump blocking people on Twitter] stipulation of facts. “Scavino,” both parties to the lawsuit agreed, “assists President Trump in operating the @realDonaldTrump account, including by drafting and posting tweets to the account.” No one else, besides Trump himself, had access to the most consequential and controversial social media account in the world.
Having access to the president’s Twitter feed isn’t a job; it’s a sign that you’re good at your job. Trump’s Twitter account is arguably his most valuable digital asset. Scavino has access because he’s a trusted member of Trump’s administration.
Draper does eventually get around to describing Scanvino’s day-to-day job duties -- reaching out to Trump’s base online and serving as the keeper of those relationships.
More than anyone else in the White House, the director of social media spends his day online, monitoring the #MAGA congregation. “Dan talks to the base more than anybody else after the president,” one senior White House official told me. “He’s the conductor of the Trump Train, and these people know he’s true blue, and he also knows all the influencers.” A year ago, the former chief strategist Steve Bannon shared a West Wing office with Scavino. “He has his hands on the Pepes,” Bannon recalls, referring to the cartoon frog that serves as mascot to the alt-right. “He knew who the players were and who were not. He’d bring me Cernovich — I didn’t know who Cernovich was until Scavino told me.” Bannon was referring to the alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich, who has frequently promoted debunked and scurrilous conspiracy theories.
But Draper doesn’t recognize both the actual labor involved in Scavino’s operation and its value to the administration and Trump personally. And it’s important for anyone covering Trump (as well as anyone running against Trump and the GOP) to understand not just Scavino’s job but why his work matters. Draper’s profile misses both.
Scavino isn’t just monitoring the #MAGA movement online; he’s actively cultivating relationships with that community, more than likely sharing messaging and talking points with influencers, and amplifying their content to a broader audience. More than once, user-generated content from Reddit forum “r/The_Donald” has been tweeted out by Trump himself, most notoriously when Trump tweeted this meme of himself beating up CNN. Scavino is almost certainly responsible for this Trump tweet attacking Rosie O’Donnell after a similar thread appeared on r/The_Donald as well. (Designer Mike Rundle tweeted a crude but accurate depiction of the Scavino social media pipeline.)
Scavino’s outreach isn’t an unusual occurrence. The Obama White House devoted staff resources to the same task, as has most every major presidential campaign since 2004. Online outreach is a crucial part of any digital operation. Given that Trump needs to hang on to his base perhaps more than any president before him, it makes sense that Scavino’s White House role is prominent.
I don’t write this to defend him as a person. After all, Scavino is a guy who, through his personal Twitter feed, amplifies conspiracy theories and harasses others. Scavino is not the kind of person I want paid with the taxpayer dime. But it’s important to understand what his job is -- and that Scavino is quite good at what he does.
this is totally right. the Scavino profile is a chance to really examine how much of the fever swamp makes its way to the White House and vice versa. Instead...it's a write-around with some speculation about how often he tweets for Trump. a real missed opportunity! https://t.co/YnSHfBQFmd
— Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) April 16, 2018
Per the profile, Scavino is the “conductor of the Trump Train.” Draper got the quote right but failed to consider what it meant, even as he described the train as a “juggernaut.” Scavino’s role isn’t just to craft tweets for Trump. He’s keeping the Trump Train’s passengers on board.