Now that the jokes and laughing have died down, here’s why Rep. Devin Nunes has launched a $250 million defamation lawsuit against Twitter and several of its accounts, including @DevinCow: Filing the legal action marks the official start of Nunes’ 2020 campaign.
Despite having a district that is tailor-made for a Republican given the strong edge in GOP voter registration, and despite Nunes winning prior races with ease since he was first elected in 2002, Democrat challenger Andrew Janz lost by only 5.4 percent of the vote in last November’s election. It was the closest an opponent had gotten to Nunes. Such a showing, and the fact Janz was able to raise $9 million in his campaign, must have given the incumbent pause.
So Nunes has likely brought a lawsuit not out of any conviction over its merits — legal experts give little chance of succeeding — but rather how it will help rally his base of voters. It is a page from the playbook of the politician whom Nunes admires greatly, President Trump.
Nunes contends in the lawsuit that Twitter purposely “shadow banned” his tweets on its site, but allowed critics such as Devin Nunes cow and @Devinmom to fire away unrestrained (the mom account has since been deactivated). The Tulare resident and former dairyman says the result was damage to his reputation and, most importantly, a closer election than had previously occurred.
Twitter denies it engages in any shadow banning, but the contention is also a rallying cry made by Trump and is popular among conservatives who think they don’t get fairly treated by social media sites, including Google and Facebook.
Creating an enemy where there isn’t any is a political strategy Trump uses all the time, and it is a method Nunes has also followed for years. In 2009 he went to Huron with Sean Hannity of the Fox network to rally against President Obama for allegedly turning the Valley into a Dust Bowl with his water policies. It was a drought year, and Nunes and Hannity decried how water meant for farmers was instead being kept in the Delta to benefit fish.
“When you look at the radical environmental fringe, there’s no question they are tied closely to the Communist Party,” Nunes said then, as chronicled in a column that author and water expert Mark Arax wrote for The Bee.
“Radical environmental fringe” plus “Communist” equals enemy No. 1 in the Nunes playbook of the time. Nevermind the fact that where Nunes and Hannity stood was next to a tomato field that had just been harvested.
Nunes’ suit against Twitter could also be part of a larger, Trump-led campaign against social media sites, with the goal of raising suspicion and blunting criticism. Devaluing social media would be the logical follow up to Trump’s war against traditional media.
For example, the president posted this on his Twitter account last Tuesday: “Facebook, Google and Twitter, not to mention the Corrupt Media, are sooo on the side of the Radical Left Democrats. But fear not, we will win anyway, just like we did before!”
The irony, of course, is that one of the nation’s top users of social media is ... President Trump. As of Thursday afternoon, @realDonaldTrump had 59.2 million followers and he had sent 41,000 tweets.
By contrast, @DevinNunes had 399,000 followers and 2,008 tweets. Perhaps the president could give the congressman a tutorial.
Here’s the reality: Unless every Republican legislator in every state and in Washington, D.C. can prove they are being banned by social media, the conspiracy theory is empty and Nunes’ lawsuit will quickly be squelched.
But day after day the voters in his 22nd District — Tulare, Visalia, Clovis and Fresno — look for his leadership on issues like:
▪ Immigration reform: Farmers badly need a labor force they can depend on to grow and harvest their crops.
▪ Free trade: Ending hostilities with China so Asian markets can be fully open to nut and fruit crops grown in the Valley.
▪ Water supply: What new legislation can he bring to better the Valley’s water situation?
Then there is the specter of Russian meddling in our last presidential campaign. Talk about Communists. What is Nunes, the ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, doing to assure our next election is free of any foreign influence?
The answer: He is suing Twitter and starting his re-election campaign.