Trump and Clinton Have Won the Nominations, but Who's Winning the Election's Twitter War?

Donald Trump
Donald Trump is a master of doling out insults in 140 characters. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

As the most prominent figures of the Democratic Party took the stage of Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center Monday night, Donald Trump sat typing or dictating pithy responses to those speaking at such a "mess" of a convention. He implied he has some sort of dirt on Cory Booker. He once again called Elizabeth Warren "Pochahontas." He pointed out how Bernie Sanders "has done such a complete fold." Sad to watch, all of it!

Trump has been hammering Sanders for not standing up to Hillary Clinton ever since she announced Tim Kaine, a man "in the pocket of Wall Street," as her running mate. The former Democratic hopeful's spinelessness, as perceived by Trump, culminated with his endorsement of the woman who stood in the way of his political revolution. In a matter of days, Trump tweeted about how Sanders "lost his energy and strength," how he "can't go on any longer" and, naturally, how he is "weak and somewhat pathetic." At least he's not totally pathetic.

But on Monday night, when Trump tweeted about how Sanders "sold out" and how his campaign was a "waste of time," the Sanders campaign decided to respond.

Less than 24 hours later, the two-word response has been retweeted over 115,000 times. That's a lot of RTs, but it pales in comparison to the nearly half a million Clinton has received for her similarly internet-shattering response to Trump's views on President Barack Obama's endorsement of the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Both of these responses were carefully considered by the respective campaign's social media team, whereas Trump doesn't even bother to spell-check his 140-character digs, of which there are too many to even consider highlighting. Regardless of how politicians decide to manage their Twitter feed, there is no doubt that the social media platform has played an overlarge role in the election, particularly in in how it has stimulated an awkward, petty kind of discourse between candidates. In light of Sanders's millennial-friendly comeback Monday night, we've decided to take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of how politicians have "taken to Twitter" since the race for the White House began.

Hillary Clinton's and Jeb Bush's Stilted Twitter Presence

A central criticism of both Clinton and Jeb Bush is that it seems like they're trying way too hard, and nowhere has their desperation been laid so bare as on Twitter. Both candidates would have been better served to play it safe and dispense policy-related tweets at comfortable intervals, but part of being a presidential candidate in 2016 is being sucked into the turbine of name calling in 140 characters.

"Delete your account," stilted as it was, was a triumphant moment for Clinton and has served as a kind of umbrella response to Trump's repeated attacks. Previously, she confined herself to innocuous, ham-fisted jokes here and there at the GOP's expense.

That's about as wild as it gets.

Bush, on the other hand, was for months Trump's personal punching bag, and there was simply no way he could totally avoid responding on Twitter, even though his contrived replies were never going to look good when stacked against Trump's devil-may-care brashness.

In August 2015, Bush's and Clinton's social media teams clashed head-on with this Photoshop-heavy exchange. These were simpler times. Here's Clinton taking it up a notch by editing Bush's graphic.

Ted Cruz's Pop Culture References

Regardless of what you think of his political views, Cruz is kind of an oddball when it comes to his willingness to bring pop culture into his campaign. He's said the Constitution is "his precious" in a creepy Gollum voice, he's acted out entire scenes from The Princess Bride, and, though it didn't happen in this election, he did read Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor. This has carried over into his tweets, and outside of questioning Trump's manhood, he's made some interesting choices.

Instead of flat-out saying that Trump had "jumped the shark" by repeatedly questioning Cruz's eligibility to run for president, he went straight to the source with a clip of the Fonz in Happy Days. Very clever.

Then, later in the month, he sent out this odd shout-out to Fat Bastard from Austin Powers.

We don't want to know what's in Cruz's DVD library.

Rand Paul's Festivus Miracle

Remember Rand Paul? The pesky independent hurling grenades from the edge of the debate stage? He did the same on Twitter. Sometimes very weakly...

But in December he borrowed a tradition from Festivus, the made-up holiday from Seinfeld, and "aired his grievances" about his fellow candidates.

He proceeded to knock Trump (on his outsourcing), Ben Carson (on his soft-spokenness), Chris Christie (on his Dallas Cowboys fandom), Marco Rubio (on his uselessness), Bush (on his public speaking), Clinton (on her debate bathroom break), Lindsey Graham (on dropping out of the election) and Sanders (on socialism). Well done.

Marco Rubio Loses It

Battling Donald Trump for months on end can take a toll on a man's soul, and unfortunately Little Marco's was ultimately not able to withstand the pressure. As the election wound to a close, he decided to take on Trump at his own game, gleefully mocking his tweets in front of live audience.

A few weeks later, he would suspend his campaign, but that didn't stop the Twitter madness. For a few days in May, he ranted against the media with a fine mixture of sarcasm and anger, ultimately realizing he may have flown a little too high too fast.

John Kasich's One Shining Moment

The lasting images of John Kasich's campaign will be those of him stuffing Italian food in his face while campaigning in New York. It's too bad no one will remember the A+ burn he tweeted at Trump after the front-runner called Kasich's love of hero sandwiches "disgusting."

Elizabeth Warren's Takedown Tweetstorms

Unlike the contrived attacks of most politicians, Warren's tweets at objectionable Republicans seem to come from a genuine place, like she just couldn't help but unload on Cruz and, of course, Trump.

In April, she took down Cruz with a series of tweets criticizing the senator for complaining about all he has had to sacrifice and endure while running for president. Ultimately, she tweeted:

But Warren's main target has been Trump, whom she has slammed repeatedly and at length. Here's the end of one such tweetstorm from May:

This feud is to be continued.

Trump Is as Trump Does

But for all of the different ways candidates and politicians have attacked one another on Twitter, only one of them is a true natural, for whom combative social media exchanges come as easily as taking a deep breath. On Twitter, Trump is not awkward, he is not uncomfortable, and nothing he tweets comes across as calculated or forced. Despite all of the spelling errors and questionable phrasing, he is in his element. There is no point embedding specific tweets into this post. There are too many, and selecting only a few would be doing an injustice to his entire body of work. Simply visit his page and go for a mindless scroll.

What role has Trump's Twitter dominance played in his delegate dominance? It's hard to say, although for such an attention-hungry, headline-grabbing candidate to be able to express himself to millions of Americans whenever he chooses has certainly been an invaluable asset. Call the existence of Twitter one of the countless, brightly burning orange stars that needed to align for the former reality TV host to, over a year after descending a golden elevator to announce his candidacy, find himself close to ruling the most powerful nation on the planet.

In the end, this election has proved that no one is immune to the more toxic aspects of the internet. Decorum, civility and mutual respect are far harder to maintain when it's so easy to indulge in petty impulses. It doesn't matter that these ostensibly distinguished figures are vying for a prestigious office that one would think commands a certain measure of respect. Twitter exists.

If a competitor fires a shot, the implication is that its target must fire back, or else look weak to all those watching. It's how the internet works, and if politicians are engaging with the internet, it's how they will behave. Is it all Trump's fault? Maybe this time around, but future candidates too will be confronted with the empty white box of Twitter or whichever platform supplants it. They'll have to fill it with something.

And a Bonus From South of the Border