As rowdy protesters overwhelm town hall meetings nationwide, South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan has decided to connect with his constituents differently – on social media, delivering lengthy posts on Facebook and engaging in debates on Twitter nearly every day.
“I find it invaluable,” Duncan told McClatchy. “And the reason why is that we can hold a virtual town hall multiple times during the day, letting people know what’s going on real time in Washington, getting their comments and providing feedback answers to their questions on what’s going on throughout the day.”
Duncan, one of the most aggressive Twitter and Facebook users in South Carolina’s congressional delegation, said these “virtual town halls” put him in touch with his district more often than traditional means of constituent outreach. These work in addition to town halls to effectively reach constituents when his busy schedule won’t allow for face-to-face interaction, he said.
“You can’t do that if you’ve gotta wait to go home and stand in front of the district or wait on feedback of people calling in the office to ask what’s going on,” Duncan said. “We can actually push the narrative. We can drive the narrative, and do it multiple times.”
Duncan considers Facebook cathartic, using it to deliver hot takes on everything from Jeff Sessions’ meeting with a Russian diplomat to the GOP’s recent health care proposal and President Donald Trump’s wiretapping allegations against former President Barack Obama.
Duncan wrote a lengthy post Thursday about Trump’s revised travel ban on people from some predominantly Muslim countries, criticizing the decision of U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson to halt it.
“These rulings out of Hawaii and Maryland are the embodiment of liberal judicial activism at their worst . . . ,” Duncan began the Facebook post. “When Judge Watson cites political rhetoric in his decision, not the statute or the law, this is judicial activism at its very worst. It’s tyranny from the bench, or ‘black-robed tyranny’ as conservative pundits have called it in years past.”
In one popular post on March 1, the day after Trump gave his first congressional address, Duncan said he was “disturbed” about Democratic congressional members refusing to clap for Trump.
“President Trump’s speech was filled with a lot of pro-American rhetoric. His best line was about not being elected to represent the world – he was elected to represent America,” Duncan wrote. “Seems we will finally focus on putting America and American interests first. But the Democrats in Congress wouldn’t even stand for America. I imagine that they would have emulated Colin Kaepernick had the National Anthem been struck up at that moment – based on how they were reacting.”
“It seems that Democrats are more worried about putting men in our daughters’ bathrooms than they are about putting Americans back to work.”
This post, like all his others, drew hundreds of comments, ranging from reverence to insult.
“If some are just factually wrong, we’ll point that out, which we did on Twitter this week,” Duncan said of the nastiest comments. “On Facebook, we know who the regulars are and sometimes we’ll engage, sometimes we’ll not. But it’s mainly on correcting . . . misinformation if they’re trying to push a narrative that’s just 180 degrees from the truth. But we’re not going to get into a debate with trolls on Facebook or Twitter.”
Duncan also takes on his critics on Twitter. On Tuesday, he invited Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to a gun range after she went on a tweet storm condemning his Hearing Protection Act, which would make gun silencers more easily accessible.
Duncan said he personally directed social media operations for his campaign with the assistance of two staffers. He writes a majority of the posts on Facebook, he said, while most of his actions on Twitter are handled by his assistants, using condensed versions of his Facebook statements.
He occasionally conducts impromptu polls and debates on Facebook to gauge his district’s concerns. He uses the comments to determine whether more public engagement is needed on legislative topics.
David Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University, said Duncan’s strategy was typical of the modern politician.
“If you think about it, you used to have to sit down and write a letter to Congress, but of course that took some time and poise and the congressman would have to write them back,” Woodard said. “Now I think you can just pop up an email or respond to something they see real quickly. I think it’s the way more and more of them are going to operate.”
The effectiveness of this strategy largely depends on the topics politicians choose to engage in, Woodard said. However, he added that asking people in Duncan’s congressional district about Obamacare “is like giving candy to a baby.”