(CNN) — This Tuesday, Elon Musk confirmed it: He wants Donald Trump back on Twitter.
“I think it was wrong to ban Donald Trump, I think it was a mistake,” Musk, who is in the process of buying the social media company, told a Financial Times conference. “I would reverse the permanent ban…Banning Trump on Twitter did not end Trump’s voice, it will amplify it among the right wing and for that it is morally wrong and downright stupid.”
You might think, at first glance, that this is BIG news for the former president. After all, it is clear that he misses the social network since he was banned from it after the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol. He regularly posts press releases—through his Save America PAC—that read exactly like his tweets.
However, Trump has staked much of his post-presidential capital — political and otherwise — on a rival social networking site known as Truth Social.
And if Trump returns to Twitter, Truth Social’s raison d’être—always a flimsy thing—is completely gone.
Which puts Trump in a difficult dilemma: does he stay, for financial and pride reasons, with Truth Social? Or does he return to Twitter, where his more than 80 million followers presumably await him?
(Note: Trump doesn’t have to make that decision today. Or tomorrow. Musk doesn’t own Twitter yet, and even in the quickest scenario, he probably won’t for a while.)
Trump, to date, has insisted that he stick with Truth Social. “I’m not going to go to Twitter, I’m going to stay on TRUTH,” Trump said immediately after reports of Musk’s purchase of the social media giant in April. “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’s going to make it better and he’s a good man, but I’m going to stay on TRUTH.”
Which, well, that’s fine. It would have been colossally foolish of Trump to abandon Truth Social before even knowing a) if Musk was actually going to buy Twitter and b) if Musk planned to reinstate him.
But now that the answer to both questions appears to be “yes,” Trump’s predicament is a bit more complicated. CNN’s Gabby Orr reported Tuesday that according to a person close to Trump, the former president is committed to Truth Social for now, but is probing his allies on whether he should rejoin Twitter ahead of a potential presidential run. White House in 2024.
Also keep in mind that Truth Social isn’t exactly setting the social media world on fire.
Last month, The Washington Post published an article titled “Trump’s Truth Social in trouble as financial, technical woes mount” which included these lines: “The app — a mock Twitter where posts are called ‘truths’ — has seen drop its downloads so much that it has disappeared from App Store listings. The company is losing investors, executives and attention.”
In recent weeks, Trump has picked up the pace of posting on Truth Social (he has posted four truths in the last 24 hours, most touting the success of his endorsements of candidates). And the app is currently the 7th most downloaded app on the Apple app store.
But seen in general terms, Truth Social is not succeeding. The special purpose acquisition company designed to take the company public — Digital World Acquisition Group — has seen its shares fall sharply on news that Musk is buying Twitter. (Stocks rose briefly as Trump began to tweet “truthear” on the platform at the end of last month. But the rebound was short-lived.)
If money weren’t a factor, this decision would be an easy one for Trump. He has an established and loyal base on Twitter and is likely to soon be owned by someone who has pledged to game the free speech aspects of the site.
But money is a factor. We know that Trump is a) less wealthy than he was when he became president and b) has a shrinking list of sources of income, as his overall personal brand has been affected by his tenure at the White House.
Truth Social was, in theory at least, a solution to Trump’s potential cash woes. At least so far, it seems to be working. As Forbes wrote last month in an assessment of Trump’s net worth and Truth Social: “Donald Trump, master of reinvention, has a new title: tech entrepreneur. It’s a stretch for this 75-year-old, who doesn’t even use e-mail and prefers to scribble notes with marker. But he doesn’t mind launching into companies where he has little previous experience, and this job should be much more lucrative than the presidency. In fact, he has already increased his net worth by $430 million. “.
There are 430 million reasons for Trump not to walk away from Truth Social. But Twitter’s siren song is getting louder. And Musk seems hell-bent on bringing back Trump’s former presence on the platform.
It is a real problem for Trump. Whichever path you choose, you lose: influence if you keep Truth Social and money if you go back to Twitter.