One of the ways politicians can shape media narratives in their favor is to feed anonymous quotes to reporters. Another, as we learned on Sunday, is to correct them on Twitter from a secret account with a debonair French alias. As was revealed by Slate’s Ashley Feinberg, Mitt Romney has been doing so under the name Pierre Delecto. Or at least he was before Feinberg outed him. Sadly, the account is now locked. RIPierre.
Slate’s story outing Romney as Delecto came hours after The Atlantic published a profile of Romney by McCay Coppins in which the Trump-opposed Republican senator admitted to having a “lurker” account on Twitter. After Feinberg laid out a compelling case that this account was @qaws9876 (display name: Pierre Delecto), Coppins called up Romney to ask if he was indeed behind the account. Romney’s response? “C’est Moi.”
— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) October 21, 2019
As Romney told Coppins, the account was used primarily to lurk. Registered in 2011, Romney has only tweeted from it 10 times, usually to defend himself. “Jennifer, you need to take a breath. Maybe you can then acknowledge the people who agree with you in large measure even if not in every measure,” Delecto/Romney tweeted earlier this year in response conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin writing that Romney’s Trump strategy was “nonconfrontation verging on spinelessness.”
But what gave Romney’s secret identity away were the accounts Pierre Delecto follows. They include Romney’s children and grandchildren, reporters who covered the Romney beat when he was running for president in 2012, former Romney staffers, and Romney fan accounts — as well as others it would seem to make sense for the senator might want to keep tabs on. Pierre Delecto also followed 702 accounts, only a few more than the 668 Romney told Coppins his lurker account followed. It was enough for Feinberg to surmise that Delecto was Romney and Romney was Delecto. She was right.
Prominent public figures creating secret Twitter identities is not unheard of. Former FBI director James Comey once tweeted anonymously under the name Reinhold Niebuhr, a nod to the theologian he studied in college. In 2017, NBA superstar Kevin Durant was famously revealed to have been defending himself passionately from an anonymous account when he forgot to switch switch from his verified account before tweeting about himself in the third person. He later admitted to using burner accounts.
The revelation about Romney’s Francophone alter-ego comes as the senator has ramped up his criticism of President Trump, particularly in regard to his efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden, and the decision to enable Turkey to invade northern Syria and attack the U.S.-allied Kurds. Trump has responded with relentless personal attacks. “Mitt Romney never knew how to win,” Trump wrote earlier this month. “He is a pompous ‘ass’ who has been fighting me from the beginning, except when he begged me for my endorsement for his Senate run (I gave it to him), and when he begged me to be Secretary of State (I didn’t give it to him). He is so bad for R’s!”
For now at least, Romney seems to have leaned into his role as one of the president’s most vocal critic among Senate Republicans. In a new interview with Axios, he freely criticized the president on a number of topics, from his marital infidelity to his recent bungling in Syria. Though he stopped short of endorsing the impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats, Romney did leave open the possibility that he could ultimately vote to remove Trump from office should he be impeached. “I just want to get as much information as we can, make an assessment consistent with the law and the Constitution,” Romney said.
Though Romney has been critical of the president as of late, his response to Trump’s presidency has been more along the lines of how Rubin described it earlier this year: “nonconfrontation verging on spinelessness.” As Pierre Delecto may have responded to Trump’s countless offenses against democracy: C’est la vie.