Ever since riding that golden escalator into the presidential race, Donald Trump has found few fans like Bill Mitchell.
The silver-haired Charlotte businessman could be Trump’s most loyal defender, an online avatar with more than 205,000 Twitter followers, including the president’s sons and adviser Kellyanne Conway. Trump himself has taken notice. He re-tweeted Mitchell again this week.
“President Trump re-tweeted me. That’s nice. :-),” Mitchell tweeted Wednesday. “TWICE.”
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As Trump made his improbable rise to the White House as a political novice, Mitchell built a national following of his own – 140 characters at a time.
The Weekly Standard called him Trump’s “unofficial Twitter mascot.” MIT’s Media Lab ranked his Twitter feed the 26th most influential of the campaign, ahead of Politico and The New York Times. Last month CNN said Mitchell’s “meteoric rise over the last year has been nothing short of remarkable.”
From his home in northeast Charlotte, Mitchell, 56, has begun an online radio show that he hopes to syndicate while building an audience like that of the king of conservative talk, Rush Limbaugh.
“Right now I’m building a brand for the show,” he says. “‘Yuge.’ We want to be ‘yuge,’ as Trump would say.”
The internet and social media might give Mitchell a platform to do that.
“This is the new media world,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. “In fundamental ways this phenomenon is like talk radio. Rush Limbaugh did the same thing with talk radio.”
Mitchell caters to an increasingly polarized audience. Last November Gallup found that 32 percent of Americans trusted the mainstream media. Among conservative Republicans it was 14 percent.
“Trump has kind of paved the way for this in that he’s sowed distrust of the regular media,” says Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University. “So his followers are searching for information they can trust.”
Mitchell, a former executive recruiter, is 6-foot-5 with a square jaw and swept-back hair. He’s personable, smooth and self-assured. Last September, when polls and conventional wisdom pointed to a Hillary Clinton victory, he tweeted that Trump had a “100 percent chance of winning.”
“People say I’m an optimist. I disagree,” he says. “I just like being right.”
“A lot of Trump people conflate being lucky with understanding politics, and he certainly is one of those people,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson told the Observer.
Last fall GOP pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson told Buzzfeed that Mitchell fits the “post-fact environment.”
“If you don’t like the polls,” she said, “having somebody who tells you they’re wrong makes you feel good.”
Since the election, Mitchell’s audience of Trump loyalists has only grown. He wears his own loyalty on a finger in the shape of a gold, Super Bowl-size ring. “President Trump” is engraved on top, with “Deplorables” on one side and “Make America Great Again” on the other.
Mitchell calls it his “Trump championship ring.”
5 million Twitter views
Mitchell, the son of an Army colonel and a college professor, was born in Germany. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in accounting and finance and an affinity for theater. He lived across the country before moving to Charlotte five years ago with his executive search firm.
He’s a lifelong Republican but says Trump was the first presidential candidate he got excited about since Ross Perot in the 1990s. When Trump rode down the Trump Tower escalator in 2015 to announce his candidacy, Mitchell counted his Twitter followers by the dozens. As Trump took off, so did he.
“How many people spend decades yelling at their TV set and nobody hears them?” he says. “I get on Twitter, I can say pretty much anything and millions of people see it. It’s a great feeling. And it’s a great responsibility.”
Mitchell says his tweets are popular because he has the ability to paint visual pictures with words. “Jesus was perfect,” he tweeted last year, “and the media of his day had him crucified.”
The tweets that got the president’s attention this week came after the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, said Trump and members of his team may have been under inadvertent surveillance after the election.
Trump has claimed to have been wire-tapped by former President Barack Obama, though FBI Director James Comey told Congress this week that “no information” supports that.
“EXACTLY AS I SAID - House Intel Chair: We Cannot Rule Out Sr. Obama Officials Were Involved in Trump Surveillance,” Mitchell tweeted and the president re-tweeted.
A little later, Trump re-tweeted Mitchell again: “Trump always ends up being right. It’s almost a little freaky.”
Mitchell claims to have around 5 million views a day of his Twitter feed, along with some 50,000 re-tweets. Daniel Levitin, author of “Weaponized Lies,” a book about the “post-truth era,” says Mitchell’s tweets match social media with a receptive audience.
“Millions of Americans don’t trust scientists and experts and the elite,” he says. “They’re mad and they’re reaching for something different. They’ve given the establishment a chance and it hasn’t helped them.”
Lies or ‘puffery’?
Mitchell spares no opportunity to defend Trump.
Despite critics who say he’s breaking campaign promises by supporting the House Republican health care plan, Mitchell says it’s part of Trump’s “master plan.”
“It doesn’t make sense to us because we’re seeing the individual pieces,” he says.
Like Trump, Mitchell dismissed last fall’s “Access Hollywood” tape as “locker room talk.” And he rejects polls such as Monday’s Gallup survey that showed Trump with just 37 percent approval. “It’s a bull---- poll,” he says. Last year he dismissed polls that showed Clinton ahead, saying they were based on faulty assumptions about the electorate.
And he takes issue with suggestions that the president lies.
“Do human beings lie?” he asks. “Does Trump say things sometimes that I call marketing puffery? You could say that… Trump says outrageous stuff … ..because it gets the press’s attention.”
Mitchell isn’t sure where his new career will take him or how long it will last. But he’s enjoying it.
“I mean, how many people get an opportunity like this?” he says. “To come from nowhere to becoming a known person. I’m just going to see what happens, go forward and see how it turns out.”
Or, as he tweeted one night this week:
“Today has been a pretty good day, but you know, they’re all pretty good on the #TrumpTrain. 20 months of winning!”