Former US president Donald Trump is actively holding meetings about launching his own social media company to rival Twitter, a key adviser says.
"There've been conversations and meetings already to this point, I think there's a very good chance (former) president Trump could set up his own social media platform in which case regardless of what the platform is it's going to be the biggest once he joins it," Jason Miller, former senior adviser to 2020 Trump campaign, said in an interview with The Australian and Sky News.
Trump was permanently banned from Twitter in the wake of the January 6 Capitol riots, which also resulted in his unprecedented second impeachment trial and acquittal in the Senate earlier this month.
Conservatives have long accused Twitter and other big tech platforms including Facebook and YouTube of bias and politically motivated censorship.
Alternative social media platforms and messaging apps such as Parler, Gab and Telegram, which were already popular with the far-right, have seen an influx of new users in the aftermath of Trump's deplatforming.
Trump himself, however, is yet to return to social media in any form.
Donald Trump Jr last month announced he had joined Telegram, an encrypted messaging service similar to WhatsApp, saying "big tech censorship is getting worse" and he needed a "place that I can connect to you guys that respects free speech".
Parler was itself taken offline in early January after Amazon Web Services booted the site from its servers, and Apple and Google removed the app from their stores, citing the platform's alleged failure to police violent content.
Watchdog group Media Matters, however, said that while Parler played a role in the January 6 violence, it paled in comparison to the likes of Facebook – which has long been criticised for failing to crack down on extremist content.
"Apple and Google were being extraordinarily myopic and, frankly, hypocritical in singling out Parler," Media Matters president Angelo Carusone told Salon. "Not because I want to defend Parler, but the math is the math. Facebook was worse."
Parler sued Amazon for antitrust violations, but a Washington judge last month panned the complaint as "(failing) to allege basic facts" and denied a request for a preliminary injunction that would have forced Amazon to temporarily reinstate Parler's account.
It relaunched last week after more than a month off the internet, during which time the company ousted chief executive John Matze and replaced him with Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler as interim CEO.
In interviews slamming the company following his ouster, Matze revealed that Parler had been aggressively courting Trump last year to make the site his primary social media home, even going as far as to offer his real estate company a 40 per cent stake in the business, according to BuzzFeed.
The talks fell through, with Matze telling Axios he "didn't like the idea of working with Trump, because he might have bullied people inside the company to do what he wanted" and feared that if "we didn't sign the deal, he might have been vengeful and told his followers to leave Parler".
Trump never created a Parler account but in court filings – prior to being booted – Matze claimed the former president had considered joining under the pseudonym "Person X", and that "a desire to deny president Trump a platform on any large social media service" was part of the reason behind Amazon's decision.
Parler came back online last week "built on sustainable, independent technology and not reliant on so-called 'big tech' for its operations", Meckler said in a statement, vowing the platform would be "stronger than ever".
Trump's backing of a new platform could put him in an awkward situation with one of his staunchest supporters, podcast host and former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino, who has a large financial stake in Parler.
Likewise, Gab – which is home to the likes of Australian chef and conspiracy theorist Pete Evans – has long attempted to entice Trump to join. Earlier this month, there were inaccurate reports that Trump had returned to social media with a Gab account.
But the account was actually created five years ago by Gab CEO Andrew Torba to mirror Trump's Twitter profile, intended as a placeholder for if and when he ever decided to join the platform.
In a statement posted on the site, Torba then alleged that Trump would have joined if not for his son-in-law and former White House adviser Jared Kushner. "The only reason he's not using it right now to contact his base is because dopey advisers like Jared Kushner, who lost him the election, are blocking him from using it," Torba wrote.
"We will go on the record stating that we know 100 per cent for a fact that Jared Kushner is actively trying to keep Trump off Gab and has been for weeks. Because Gab is the only safe place left for conservatives that means Kushner is trying to keep Trump off the internet. Why?"
Other media outlets including CNN and Bloomberg had similarly reported in January that Kushner, as well as deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, had blocked efforts by other advisers to get Trump to join "fringe social media platforms".
TRUMP COULD SPLIT GOP
It comes as a new poll reveals the enormous sway the former President holds over his party, with nearly half of Republicans saying they would follow Trump if he breaks out on his own.
The USA Today poll published on Sunday showed 46 per cent of Republicans would be willing to ditch their party. The poll by Suffolk University surveyed 1000 Trump voters between February 15 and 19.
"We feel like Republicans don't fight enough for us, and we all see Donald Trump fighting for us as hard as he can, every single day," Milwaukee small business owner Brandon Keidl told the pollsters.
"But then you have establishment Republicans who just agree with establishment Democrats and everything, and they don't ever push back."
Over the weekend, Trump was confirmed as the keynote speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, in what will be his first public appearance since leaving office.
He is expected to speak this coming Sunday, February 28, with Miller telling Newsmax he intends to share his views on growing Republican support for his "America First" agenda and what can be done ahead of the 2022 and 2024 elections.
"I think what you're going to hear President Trump talk about next Sunday on the 28th is the future of the Republican Party and the number of lessons that we learned in 2020, where we saw President Trump bring in a record amount of African American voters, Latino American voters on the GOP side, bigger numbers than we've seen in modern Republican presidential history," Miller said. "We have to keep these voters engaged in the party."
Last week, Trump launched a scathing attack on "political hack" Mitch McConnell, declaring the Republican Party "can never again be respected or strong" with the long-time Kentucky Senator at the helm.
In a lengthy statement released by his Save America political action committee on Tuesday, the former president threw down the gauntlet to the Republican establishment, vowing "where necessary and appropriate" to back primary challenges for candidates "who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First".
"The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political 'leaders' like Senator Mitch McConnell at its helm," Trump said.
His attack came in response to a 20-minute tirade on the floor of the Senate by McConnell, who despite voting to acquit the former president, warned he had not "gotten away with anything yet" and may still face legal consequences over the Capitol riots.
McConnell had attempted to use the impeachment to draw a line under the Trump era, telling Politico that he would work to support "electable" Republican candidates in 2022, even if that means backing candidates Trump does not support.
"Mitch is a dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again," rump said in his statement. "We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, compassionate leadership."
Speaking to The Australian and Sky News, Miller said Trump had used the "leverage" of threatening to start his own political party to ensure Republicans did not side with Democrats to convict him in his impeachment trial.
"(A third party) is not something he was proactively pursuing," he said.
"There were no serious conversations that were being had behind the scenes, and the only way he was ever going to even think about that is if he was pushed towards it. But good thing is we have gotten past impeachment – President Trump has been acquitted fully."
He continued, "I think the only possible way that there would have been any footsies with the idea of a third party was if there'd been some sort of move towards impeachment or any sort of bigger push, but President Trump is very much committed to the Republican party and he wants to see the party win back the majorities in our legislature."
One respondent in the USA Today poll, however, said Trump didn't need to create a third party. "I think he's just going to, you know, take over the Republican Party, much as he did in 2016," Pennsylvania man Francis Zovko said. "They all kind of thought he was a big joke, and by the end they weren't laughing any more."