On Sunday morning, the political world was abuzz following a curious and somewhat controversial retweet sent out from Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s official Twitter account. The tweet in question read, “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”
Seems innocent enough, but Twitter users were quick to note that the quote was originally said by Benito Mussolini, the fascist Italian dictator.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2016
The quote-bearing tweet initially came from a parody Twitter account with the handle “ilduce2016”, a moniker which the New York Times points out was how “Mussolini was known by Italians.”
As it turns out, Trump tweeting out the Mussolini quote was actually part of elaborate trick, or perhaps trap is more appropriate, set up by the website Gawker.
Here’s how it all went down.
Last year, a Gawker writer created a Twitter bot tasked with continuously pumping out tweets which, while composed of genuine quotes from Mussolini, were attributed to Trump.
The plan was quite simple: have the Twitter bot incessantly tweet at Trump in the hopes that he might eventually spot one and retweet it. And this past Sunday, Trump took the bait.
Last year, we set a trap for Trump. We came up with the idea for that Mussolini bot under the assumption that Trump would retweet just about anything, no matter how dubious or vile the source, as long as it sounded like praise for himself. (It helps that that a number of Mussolini’s quotes sound plausibly like lines from Trump’s myriad books.) The account, @ilduce2016, was created by Gawker senior writer Ashley Feinberg and Gawker Media Editorial Labs director Adam Pash. It has tweeted solely at Donald Trump, multiple times a day, since December 2015.
Interestingly enough, Trump was asked about the tweet during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press where he articulated that he didn’t much care where the quote came from.
“It’s okay to know it’s Mussolini,” Trump explained. “Mussolini was Mussolini. It’s a very good quote. It’s a very interesting quote. And I saw it. I know who said it. But what difference does it make, whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else. It’s certainly a very interesting quote. That’s probably why I have on Facebook and Twitter more than 14 million people and other people don’t.”
Following up, Trump was asked if he wanted to be associated with a fascist, a question which Trump responded to with typical flair: “No, I want to be associated with interesting quotes.”
Funny enough, Gawker’s little social experiment essentially turned Donald Trump into a real world version of Dwight Schrute from The Office. For any fans of the show out there, you might recall the episode in which Dwight, when tasked with giving a speech, was given speech-writing advice from Jim who, quite hilariously, peppered Dwight’s talk with quotes from some of the 20th century’s most infamous dictators, including Mussolini.