Donald Trump rarely opens his Apple computer. Friends say he doesn’t surf the Web, preferring to read print newspapers, and he keeps stacks of magazines on his desk. Aides say they have never received an email or text message from him.
Trump’s strange analysis this week of the Russian hacking scandal — “computers have complicated lives very greatly” and “nobody knows exactly what is going on” — sounded wildly out of sync with the tech-obsessed culture that Trump has so expertly tapped into through Twitter.
But the comments confirmed what everybody close to him already knew: He’s sort of a Luddite.
Friends, aides and people who have dealt with Trump, who is 70 years old, say he is a reluctant user of technology — a sharp departure from President Barack Obama, who swipes through his iPad between meetings to catch up on the news, modernized the White House’s information technology infrastructure and forced the administration into the social media era.
Trump, by contrast, is known to go far out of his way to avoid the trappings of modern technology. His resistance to even basic means of digital communication, such as email, often frustrated some campaign aides and advisers, two people close to the transition said.
When conservative commentator Erick Erickson wrote a column last December that pleased Trump, he wanted to send Erickson an email. So Trump scribbled a note with a black Sharpie and had his assistant make a digital scan of the note and email it to Erickson.
“He’s the only one who’s ever sent me an email like that,” Erickson said, laughing. “He considers email a distraction.”
Erickson added: “He gets his emails printed out, and he reads and annotates them and sends them back as a PDF.” Current and former aides say that is standard practice.
Roger Stone, a longtime Trump friend, said he knows to send emails to one of Trump’s assistants, who download them for him. Memos can be faxed, he said. But Trump wants to talk by phone, often sitting up into the wee hours dialing business associates or campaign aides.
“Until a couple years ago, there were no computer terminals on some of the desks at the Trump Organization. He doesn’t browse the Web,” Stone said. “Until about four years ago, he was still using bicycle messengers. They were very popular in Manhattan in the 1980s. He is very old school.”
Some Trump supporters are quick to point out that he understands the power of technology and say people should not discount his ability to adapt to whatever he needs to use — if it benefits him personally.
Vanquished foes cite his Twitter feed, which Trump used effectively to communicate his message and drive his campaign, as one reason they lost. Chris Wilson, who led digital efforts for Ted Cruz’s campaign, said the Trump camp seemed to spend less money and had less of a strategy on digital ads, along with paying fewer staffers. But it was all done by Trump, he said.
“He would tweet, and it would be a headline on all three nightly news programs,” said Chris Wilson. “We started calling it the Full Trump. He was a force of nature.”
Stone said Trump is “obsessed with Twitter” and has “great instincts” because he watches TV so much and understands ratings. Matt Braynard, a former digital and data director, said Trump often approved even the smallest of digital messages and wanted to know exactly how the campaign was reaching people online.
“We would sometimes set up events on Facebook or these other platforms and if he had not seen a Facebook post for an event, and we knew it didn’t have a lot of likes, or enough reshares or attendees, we would delete it,” Braynard said.
He added: “He isn’t a digital buff, but he knows what tools matter and what they can do for him.”
While Trump fully embraced Twitter, Instagram and live Facebook videos, he is not a fan of email.
Trump told Erickson and others that email is a problem because people waste their day on it and it only opens them up to trouble. He has talked to aides and friends about business executives who were damaged by emails at trials and other politicians, like Hillary Clinton, Anthony Weiner and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who have brought themselves trouble via email.
During the campaign, Trump frequently talked about Clinton’s server publicly and privately, criticizing her for deleting emails.
His organization was accused of deleting emails in a trial 10 years ago, and a Florida judge was startled that the organization had no emails and questioned the lawyer extensively, according to USA Today, which obtained the transcripts.
“My understanding from speaking to my client is that there are no emails,” Robert Borrello, the lawyer said, according to the transcripts. He didn’t respond to a POLITICO request for comment.
“That one was a tough one to swallow,” said Jeffrey Streitfeld, the judge, now retired, in an interview. “It stuck out in my mind that they didn’t have the emails. It was not an acceptable response, and I made it very clear. I had never seen anything like that.”
Close watchers of Trump say he is downplaying the Russian hacking, which intelligence officials say was done to benefit his campaign, by blaming technology because he knows the cyberattack could be more damaging to him — and he knows exactly how technology works.
“What’s troubling him is the path could come back to his people or people he’s been associated with,” said Wayne Barrett, a longtime Trump biographer. “He knows this is a big deal and could be a big problem for him.”