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From 'covfefe' to slamming CNN: Trump's year in tweets

Chelsea Beck/NPR

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With a generous helping of exclamation points, ALL CAPS and spelling errors, 2017 was the first year of the first Twitter presidency. And in a way, President Trump's most popular tweets of the year tell the story of his presidency. These statements on Twitter gave Americans and the world an unprecedented real-time view of what Trump was thinking, stewing over and watching on cable.

"My use of social media is not Presidential - it's MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL," Trump's account tweeted on July 1, finishing with a flourish that appeared often in his tweets: "Make America Great Again!"

Trump made policy — or at least tried to — via Twitter (for example: the transgender military ban announced in a series of tweets before his communications team and Defense Department were prepared to respond). He taunted adversaries domestic and international, endorsed candidates (some who won, two who lost in the same Senate race), played media critic, catered to his base supporters, and more than anything, he drove news cycles and American conversation day in and day out.

As he explained to Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business in late October, "When I put it out, you put it immediately on your show. I mean, the other day, I put something out. Two seconds later, I'm watching your show. It's up."

It's the president's way of going around the media filter directly to his voters, while at the same time reaching broad swaths of news consumers who may not even have accounts on the social network.

The most retweeted posts tend to stoke more controversy than those on the list of most favorited. On the favorited list, there are several optimistic tweets posted around the time of the inauguration, for instance.

Here are Trump's top ten most retweeted and favorited tweets of 2017:

Most Retweeted

1. The wrestling video

A tweet slamming CNN set off widespread criticism, with some suggesting that the president was promoting violence against the media. It features a 28 second video of Trump in 2007 body slamming a man on WWE's WrestleMania. It has been doctored so the man's head is covered by the CNN logo. This came within days of a tweet in which Trump, in very personal terms, attacked cable hosts from a different cable network, MSNBC.

The tweet about CNN posted just before the Sunday political talk shows aired, meaning it got a lot of attention. Trump's homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, defended the president.

"There's a lot of cable-news shows that reach directly into hundreds of thousands of viewers. And they're really not always very fair to the president," Bossert argued on ABC's This Week. "So I'm pretty proud of the president for developing a Twitter and a social media platform where he can talk directly to the American people."

In 2017 Trump has sent 36 tweets mentioning CNN and 146 with the phrase "Fake News."*

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/881503147168071680

2. Name-calling Kim

While on his trip to Asia in November, Trump shot off a provocative tweet aimed at the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. This apparently came in response to a statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency, which went further than simply calling Trump "old," as Trump claims in the tweet. The agency described Trump, according to one translation, as a "lunatic old man." Tensions between the two nations had been heightened for months at that point, with North Korea testing missiles and demonstrating its nuclear capabilities and Trump using increasingly fiery rhetoric. Trump had previously called Kim "little rocket man."

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/929511061954297857

3. Covfefe

The tweet was posted at 12:06 a.m. ET and immediately became an Internet sensation, because it didn't make any sense. Some wondered whether the president was OK, or if he had just fallen asleep mid-tweet. The mysteries of covfefe were never solved. Then-press secretary Sean Spicer barely even tried to explain it, telling reporters, "I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant." The tweet was deleted a few hours later and yet, remarkably, the error of a tweet remains the president's third most retweeted post of 2017.

4-6. Trump on Saudi Arabia

In May, President Trump visited Saudi Arabia, his first overseas stop as president of the United States. He was welcomed with a red carpet and a flyover from fighter jets, his image projected on the sides of buildings. Since then, tweets related to Saudi Arabia have gotten a lot of retweets, likely juiced by a large and active population of Saudis on Twitter.

A tweet proclaiming "great confidence" for King Salman and the Saudi Crown Prince came just as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman purged and detained dozens of ministers, business leaders and members of the Saudi royal family, saying it was part of an anti-corruption sweep. Trump and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner have built a close relationship with Salman, who is just 32 years old and leading an effort at sweeping social and economic change in Saudi Arabia.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/927672843504177152

The next most retweeted tweet was rather basic, likely written by staff, highlighting the warm welcome Trump received in Riyadh.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/865865814099939328

Trump waded into a Middle East conflict shortly after his visit. He tweeted a day after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut off relations with Qatar and closed ports and borders to the nation, citing terrorism concerns. Traveling together in Australia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis urged calm and mediation. Trump was seen as tweeting out of sync with long-standing U.S. policy and undercutting members of his Cabinet. The White House insisted there was no disconnect at all.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/872062159789985792

7. The follow-up to covfefe

About six hours after the original tweet, someone must have woken up and realized what had happened overnight. Trump's account quickly tweeted a cleanup on aisle covfefe. This whole thing was such an Internet sensation, albeit brief, it was printed on T-shirts and turned into memes.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/869858333477523458

8. A response to the women's marches

The day after the inauguration was largely quiet on Trump's Twitter account, as thousands of protesters, many of them women wearing pink knit caps, took to the streets to protest Trump becoming president. The images dominated cable news, and then-press secretary Sean Spicer was sent out to the briefing room to insist that "this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe." But then the next day, Jan. 22, Trump weighed in on Twitter, first criticizing the protesters — "Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly" — but then two hours later offering a more conciliatory tweet. The acknowledgment that protests are a hallmark of American democracy earned far more retweets and favorites than the first did.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/823174199036542980

9. The college basketball players

While Trump was on his Asia trip in November, three American college basketball players were detained in China, and Trump worked to secure their release. First Trump wondered on Twitter, "Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!" When they did express gratitude, he did too, tweeting, "To the three UCLA basketball players I say: You're welcome." But then a few days later, things took a turn, with Trump criticizing the father of one of the players for not being grateful enough. LaVar Ball had pushed back on the idea that Trump was a major factor in the players' returning home.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump's tweet was a "rhetorical response to a criticism," and that the president was "happy to intervene" and secure their release.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/932303108146892801

10. Responding to a terror attack in London

Not long after reports of a suspected terrorist attack in London in June, Trump retweeted a Drudge Report headline: "Fears of new terror attack after van 'mows down 20 people' on London Bridge." That was followed by a more political turn with Trump arguing that attacks like the one in London are why his controversial travel ban is needed.

"We need to be smart, vigilant and tough," Trump said in a statement on Twitter. "We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!"

Only after that did Trump offer a more standard, message of support for London and the UK.

The next morning, Trump was back on Twitter again, criticizing London Mayor Sadiq Khan and taking something the mayor had said out of context.

"At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is 'no reason to be alarmed!' " Trump tweeted on Sunday morning.

The mayor had been urging calm and warning residents that they would see an increased police presence following the attack.

It was during this series of tweets that President Trump offered his 10th most retweeted post of the year. Taken alone, it reads like a recitation of a regular campaign trail refrain. But in the context of the other tweets, it takes on a different meaning, almost a defense of his highly political tweets in the aftermath of a tragedy.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/871325606901895168

Most Favorited

Several of Trump's most favorited tweets were also among his most retweeted.

1. The "short and fat" tweet

2. Fraud news CNN

3. Peaceful protest

4. Las Vegas shooting

The mass shooting at a country music festival near the Las Vegas strip in October left 59 people dead and hundreds injured. The motive remains a mystery. Unlike with London, when Trump rapidly began tweeting about terrorism, his response to Las Vegas was measured and somber.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/914810093874671617

5. Inaugural ball

An Inauguration Day tweet, sent in the waning minutes of Jan. 20, features a video of the president and first lady dancing at an inaugural ball to Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/822669114237943808

6. The basketball players tweet

7. Inauguration Day

Trump tweeted "it all begins today!" on the morning of the inauguration.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/822421390125043713

8. Super bowl congratulations

Like millions of others, Trump watched and tweeted about the super bowl, which the New England Patriots won 34-28 over the Atlanta Falcons. Trump and the Patriots' owner Bob Kraft are friends, and when the Patriots came to the White House to be honored for their victory, Kraft gave the president a commemorative super bowl ring, in addition to the more traditional custom team jersey. Some players refused to attend in protest.

What is interesting about the tweet is that it ranks in the Top 10 most favorited, but none of Trump's more inflammatory tweets about kneeling protests during the national anthem at NFL games made the cut for either favorites or retweets. Starting in late September, Trump began tweeting regularly about the NFL, doing so 21 times so far. In the first weekend of controversy after Trump referred to players who kneel during the anthem as a "son of a b****," Kraft put out a statement saying he was "deeply disappointed" by the tone of Trump's comments and spoke up for the players.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/828447350200926212

9. WE ARE WITH YOU

One of Trump's tweets in the wake of the June 3 truck attack in London (described above) expressing solidarity with the city followed a significantly more political response in which Trump tweeted about his travel ban executive order.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/871145660036378624

10. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

It's timeless, really. "Make America Great Again" was the motto of Trump's presidential campaign, emblazoned on countless red trucker hats and T-shirts. And it happens also to be a regular feature of the @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed. Trump has included the motto in 51 tweets this year, but on five occasions he was moved to tweet just those four simple words and an exclamation point.

Why did the Feb. 4 version earn more favorites than the ones tweeted on June 1, Aug. 16, Nov. 23 and Dec. 6? There might be a clue in the context. The night before Trump posted the tweet, a federal judge blocked his travel ban executive order. Trump spent most of the next morning criticizing the "so-called judge" on the case and then seemingly tossed in a #MAGA tweet for good measure.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/827885966509604865

So far this year, President Trump's account has tweeted 1,349 tweets containing at least one exclamation point.*

*Number accurate as of 11:30 a.m. ET on Dec. 20 and is likely to grow.

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