When Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race, many attributed his win to the President’s digital operations team. Stationed at a Chicago stronghold called “The Cave,” Obama’s analytics team revolutionized how data and social media can be leveraged to win elections. This narrative, fairly or not, gave shape to the conventional wisdom that Democrats possess far more digital savvy and understanding of web platforms than Republicans do.
Already, many pundits have mocked potential GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s clumsy forays into social media: He posted a video he shot on his phone vertically instead of horizontally! He overuses Twitter hashtags like it was 2010! My stars!
But you know what else reeks of 2010? Twitter parody accounts. But that’s exactly what the Democratic National Committee has launched to show off its supposedly superior social media aptitude.
According to a blog post, the DNC launched @DigitalJeb “in an attempt to show the Democratic Party’s #superior #digital #savvy and bring attention to Bush’s rusty, clunky social media rollout since declaring his intentions to seriously explore a presidential bid.”
Parody accounts — and web parody in general — are a tricky thing to nail, which is why most of them are terrible. They require a voice that’s close enough to the figure being mocked, while putting forth statements that are at once too absurd to be real and yet revealing of some larger truth. Sometimes, @DigitalJeb strikes that balance perfectly, like in this hellishly hashtagged tweet that takes aim at Bush’s ties to some of Wall Street’s most powerful donors.
More often, however, the joke is merely that Bush is an out-of-touch old guy who doesn’t “get” social media. In these tweets, the impact is far less pronounced, and they may even hurt the DNC’s cause. Bush’s Twitter feed is nothing special — a series of self-promotional tweets and the occasional personal photos, like this one of his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, celebrating their 70th anniversary.
How tame! How nerdy! How… authentic.
Voters — particularly the kind who would even consider voting for Jeb Bush — prefer authenticity over snark on Twitter. Furthermore, Bush is 61 years old so of course he uses social media like my dad. It’s charming. And this candor and lack of “savvy” is why, despite my personal politics, I follow far more Republicans than Democrats on Twitter. I mean, have you seen Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s tweets?
I would love to see @DigitalJeb become a vehicle for biting commentary that reveals the many potential problems of a third Bush presidency. It’s more likely, however, that the account will stick with low-hanging fruit, like his propensity for hashtags, which may cause a few laughs among his opponents, but will also feed fire to Republicans’ claims that the Democratic Party is elitist and out-of-touch with real Americans — Americans who don’t care about their personal brand. And while a Twitter parody account probably won’t sway the election, Democrats can’t afford to look like the arrogant social media intern nobody likes.