New York Times
By Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman
Jacobus, a Republican political strategist, did not think she had done
anything out of the ordinary: On a cable television show, she criticized
Donald J. Trump for
skipping a debate in Iowa in late January and described him as a “bad
then Mr. Trump took to Twitter, repeatedly branding Ms. Jacobus as a
disappointed job seeker who had begged to work for his campaign and had
been rejected. “We said
no and she went hostile,” he wrote. “A real dummy!” Mr. Trump’s
campaign manager told the same story on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Trump’s Twitter followers, who number about six million, piled on. For
days, they replied to his posts with demeaning, often sexually charged
insults aimed at Ms.
Jacobus, including several with altered, vulgar photographs of her
is a nutcase,” wrote @LegendaryTrump. Another Twitter user,
@stockedwood, wrote, “How the hell does a woman like her get on the
his enormous online platform, Mr. Trump has badgered and humiliated
those who have dared to cross him during the presidential race. He has
latched onto their vulnerabilities,
mocking their physical characteristics, personality quirks and,
sometimes, their professional setbacks. He has made statements, like his
claims about Ms. Jacobus, that have later been exposed as false or
deceptive — only after they have ricocheted across the
recipients of Mr. Trump’s hectoring are fellow politicians, with paid
staff members to help them defend themselves. But for others, the
experience of being targeted
by Mr. Trump is nightmarish and a form of public degradation that they
believe is intended to scare off adversaries by making an example of
as more mainstream forces in the Republican Party try to unite to stop
his march to the nomination, they are finding that the fear of taking on
Mr. Trump is discouraging
his would-be opponents from signing on to the fight.
never encountered an American politician at this level that people are
literally afraid of — donors are afraid of him,” said Rich Lowry, the
editor of National Review,
a magazine that has criticized Mr. Trump. He added, “If it was Hillary
Clinton that was doing it, the entire right-wing world would erupt in
outrage, understandably and correctly.”
is not just that Mr. Trump has a skill for zeroing in on an
individual’s soft spot and hammering at it. It is that he sets a tone of
aggression against the person,
and his supporters echo and amplify it.
and over and over again: You were rejected by him, you’re a scorned
woman,” Ms. Jacobus said, paraphrasing the hundreds of online attacks
Jacobus sent a cease-and-desist letter to Mr. Trump and his top aide,
citing electronic messages that showed the Trump campaign had courted
her and not the other way
have been trashed and ruined on Twitter,” Ms. Jacobus said. She said
that Mr. Trump’s lawyers had responded to her letter, but that they had
not yet reached a resolution.
Even when Mr. Trump moves on to something or someone else on Twitter, his followers linger on the last fight.
Lowry, who devoted an issue of his magazine to critiquing Mr. Trump and
has welcomed the candidate’s scorn, said he received a flood of hostile
Twitter attacks from
Mr. Trump’s followers after the issue was published. Their posts, he
said, regularly include “some really vile, neo-Nazi-issue white
nationalist, heinous personal abuse, kind of racially tinged stuff.”
Mr. Trump has risen in the Republican race, he has only dialed up his
tactics. This week, he sent out a menacing message on Twitter about the
Ricketts family, a wealthy
clan of Republican political donors, after it was reported that Marlene
Ricketts donated $3 million to a group opposed to Mr. Trump’s
“They better be careful,” Mr. Trump wrote of the family, “they have a lot to hide!”
“It’s a little surreal when Donald Trump threatens your mom,” Marlene Ricketts’s son, Tom, later told reporters.
political marriage involves a bit of calculation, and in the case of
the Christie-Trump endorsement, both men have a lot to gain.
say Mr. Trump’s actions go beyond the outlandish and cross into more
sinister territory. Parry Aftab, a lawyer who leads the Internet safety
said Mr. Trump’s behavior was a textbook example of cyberbullying.
particular, she said his methods were characteristic of “mean-girl
cyberbullying” because he enlists others to mimic his attacks. She said
his conduct resembled the
violent and abusive language her organization can often get removed
from Facebook and Twitter.
what point does it cross the line into something that’s defamatory and
might be actionable?” Ms. Aftab said. “At what point does it cross the
line into encouraging
violence against groups and individuals?”
Iowa and New Hampshire, Mr. Trump savaged local power brokers who had
endorsed other candidates and criticized his campaign. He called Joseph
W. McQuaid, the publisher
of The New Hampshire Union Leader, a “psycho” and a “dirty dog,” and he
accused him of trying to force Mr. Trump to advertise in his newspaper
before it endorsed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
McQuaid, who has roundly denied Mr. Trump’s claims, said he still gets
occasional Twitter messages and letters from readers about his clash
with Mr. Trump, weeks after
the Feb. 9 primary. “I think his goal,” Mr. McQuaid said, “is to shut
Lewandowski, the Trump campaign manager, said his candidate’s practice
of battering opponents on social media showed that Mr. Trump was “the
a tough candidate unwilling to take even the slightest criticism
“When someone attacks him, should he just not respond?” Mr. Lewandowski said. “That’s not fair.”
Lewandowski said he was unaware of a cease-and-desist letter from Ms.
Jacobus, and he described the Trump fans who follow the candidate’s lead
as people who “trust
Donald Trump to, when he has to, take action” against those who wish
Mr. Trump’s merciless methods have seemed to help him so far, there
could be a political down side over the long run. His attacks have
opened wounds in the Republican
ranks that are unlikely to heal anytime soon. Several people he has
targeted have said they would have difficulty supporting him in a
Vander Plaats, an influential evangelical activist in Iowa, said it
might be impossible for him to vote for Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump wooed Mr.
Vander Plaats for his endorsement
early on and turned on him bitterly after Mr. Vander Plaats instead
backed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
late January, Mr. Vander Plaats recalled, he was about to go on
television when his phone beeped, as it does whenever his Twitter handle
is mentioned. This time, the
mention was by @realDonaldTrump, who accused Mr. Vander Plaats of
seeking free hotel stays for his family in exchange for his endorsement
of Mr. Trump. Mr. Vander Plaats said the charge was flatly false.
mean, the wind gets knocked out of you,” Mr. Vander Plaats said. “And
the reason the wind gets knocked out of you is you think: This is going
out to millions of people.
And your mom’s going to read it. And it’s going to be in the
if he could ever vote for Mr. Trump, under any circumstances, Mr.
Vander Plaats paused before answering, “It would be very difficult,
today, to say I could cross
that bridge to get there.”