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The RNC’s social media arm speaks exclusively in MAGA code

The committee's rapid response unit, which posts from @RNCResearch, has been bafflingly scattershot in its hits at President Joe Biden.

If you’re scrolling through X on Monday, you’re going to spend a lot of time dodging the (unfortunately) traditional April Fools’ Day gag posts from brands and rando users alike. One account you may run across comes off, at first glance, as so hyperbolic, so confusing in its rhetoric, that it may seem like a parody of Republican talking points. But the @RNCResearch account is a very real product of the Republican National Committee and an apt look into the fever-dream quality of the current party’s id.

With over half a million followers, @RNCResearch is by and large a compilation of exactly what you’d expect the GOP to want to highlight: a lot of digs at President Joe Biden, a lot of praise for former President Donald Trump, and a lot of clips from Fox News. But more and more, the account is churning out posts that, devoid of context, make little sense to those not steeped in the dizzying lore of the MAGA movement.

More and more, the account is churning out posts that, devoid of context, make little sense to those not steeped in the dizzying lore of the MAGA movement.

Many involve hits at Biden’s age, depicting him as a doddering and shuffling elderly fool, even though he’s only about three years older than Trump. “HUMILIATING: [Former President Barack] Obama follows Biden down the short stairs after landing in New York City for their day of ritzy fundraising,” a post from Thursday read. The account had to post a follow-up explaining the “joke”: Biden used the shorter set of stairs toward the bottom of Air Force One rather than the long ones that go toward the upper level.

That’s about par for the course for @RNCResearch, run by the RNC’s rapid response director Jake Schneider and the dozens of researchers on his team, which also tries to highlight what I can only assume are moments the GOP base will find cringeworthy. Sometimes, though, the shots misfire, leaving observers to guess what the supposed gaffe is. Other times, liberals who see a clip the account posts come away finding the video strange but weirdly endearing. And still other posts go viral largely because the caption on a video is misleading, like in a post earlier this month of Biden leaving the Capitol to return to the White House:

That one earned a context note from readers, who pointed out that the two men flanking Biden weren’t his “handlers.” One is House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and the other is Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. But hey, why let facts get in the way of a mediocre burn?

Rapid response strategies are nothing new in politics, even if @RNCResearch is a singular creature in the political ecosystem. Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign innovated the concept of providing swift rebuttals to Republican talking points rather than rising above the fray or holding return fire until the next day. The resulting “war room” consolidated opposition research and communications efforts into a machine that worked to have press releases hit reporters’ faxes within minutes of a Republican’s remarks, sometimes even before the prepared remarks had even been delivered.

The GOP quickly learned to emulate the Clinton camp’s tactics. “We think of it as pre-active, not reactive,” then-RNC Chair Haley Barbour told Newsday during the 1996 presidential election. “We are not responding. We are being active by trying to focus on the issues.” In the social media era, and with the rise of Trump, that effort has gotten even faster —?and much less devoted to the facts.

In the social media era, and with the rise of Trump, that effort has gotten even faster — and much less devoted to the facts.

The @RNCResearch account is the peak of this combination of speed and misinformation — “perhaps the purest distillation of GOP politics in the Donald Trump era,” as Politico put it in the summer of 2022. (The account uses the headline from that piece —?“The White House’s least favorite Twitter account” —?as its banner on X.) Even then, the account had been racking up inaccuracies in the name of owning the libs, and as the “Biden handlers” post demonstrated, it hasn’t gotten much better since. For example, a number of posts this week have focused on gas prices being higher than when Biden took office. That’s at best misleading, considering 2021 was a time when prices were at an all-time low because of the Covid pandemic, and because Biden himself has little control over the cost of oil.

While the RNC has crowed that the account is helping set the narrative around Biden as ineffective and lacking the mental acuity needed to be president, it’s not clear how much of what it’s doing is breaking through beyond the terminally online. Moreover, if the goal is winning over independents who might be skeptical of Biden, as its focus on inflation-driven higher prices might suggest, those efforts are likely diluted by how many posts are devoted to the type of red-meat Trumpian rhetoric that the Republican base craves. Rather than delivering information that might swing the election, it’s mostly trafficking in conservative fan fiction.

Though the RNC might want to rethink this strategy, it seems unlikely it’ll change course on this front — particularly when the template for online engagement is Trump himself. Meanwhile, the committee is running low on cash and battleground states are scrambling to get early and mail-in voting efforts into place, despite Trump’s opposition. But don’t worry, I’m sure just one more post on how terrible the Covid vaccine mandate was for the military will really lock in those undecided voters this November.

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