This Wednesday evening marks the second Republican debate of the 2016 presidential election, which is shaping up to be both a cutthroat and a wholly absurd competition. This wackiness has been well highlighted on Vine, a looping video platform owned by Twitter that works as a real-time echo chamber for live events and Internet memes. Just ask Christopher Price, the creator of the Vine account and website Actual GOP. A former editorial director at Tumblr, Price set out in early August to channel his passion for GIF art and politics into Vines that highlighted some of the stranger moments of the Republican Party thus far. A little over a month into the project, more than 22,500 people have followed him, hungry for short, looping clips of an off-the-cuff Donald Trump or a nervous Jeb Bush.
I spoke to Price about how the platform complements our current political climate, what he’s learned about the tics of each of the Republican presidential candidates and whether he plans to start an “Actual Dems” account. Read an edited version of our conversation below.
Yahoo News: What inspired you to start Vining the Republican Party?
Christopher Price: This idea to do something called Actual GOP started when I learned that the Republican Party itself was selling .gop domain names. I paid the Republican Party for Actual.gop. It cost $20.16. At the time, I had no idea this would be a Vine thing. It was really just, “OK, I’m going to make some political projects.” Every presidential season, my creative juices start flowing and I gotta make stuff. It’s my way of responding to the media and the Republican Party in general.
I think of Vine as kind of like limitations in poetry. A haiku can only be a certain number of lines and syllables. A Vine can only be a certain length. Does that help or hurt your process?
Your videos are limited to 6.5 seconds long. Unlike Instagram or any other video service, you’re talking about a canvas that’s very, very limited. It forces you to think in some new ways about how you want to present information. You have to cut down your vision about what you can communicate. That was one of the first challenges.
I discovered that Vine works so well for Trump in particular, but also most prominent Republicans. It’s been really interesting to learn that and experiment with the format. In the months of doing this, I’ve learned a lot about what Vine can be, what it should be. It’s still evolving; that’s what’s so neat about it.
Would these videos work as well in places like Facebook or Instagram?
It’s a good question. Instagram videos aren’t really designed to loop as well. There’s not really a seamless looping. There is something about Vine viewers: They have a higher expectation for weirdness. I don’t know that mainstream Facebook users are going to be as into that, but I’m hoping it can be a popular thing on as many platforms as possible.
Were you at all surprised when you reached 20,000 followers after about a month?
I don’t actually understand it. I guess it’s just the Trump effect. I did not expect the Trump stuff would be so well received. I feel a little silly because when I was planning all this stuff, I had all these more serious plans. I felt like there were things I wanted to say about the Republican Party. But what people really respond to is Donald Trump saying he likes his wiener. That’s not the message I got into this to put out. But that’s really American politics.
How would you characterize American politics?
The presidential system in this country is a bit of a circus. It’s performance art. We have these debates that allow you one minute to answer a question. This is not the way the world’s last remaining superpower should be selecting its leader.
I don’t blame the media. I blame the fracturing of the media. We deal in so much unreality. The idea that so many Trump supporters believe that [President] Obama is a Muslim, or so many people think that he wasn’t born in the U.S. — these are simple questions. These have answers that we know. And yet so many people in this demographic are wrong about them.
We live in a world where you can just choose your reality. If you’re more comfortable with conservative ideas, those can be your facts. I feel like chopping up this footage is maybe the most extreme version of that. I’m taking what I see and just turning it up to 11. Let’s just go nuts. Let’s just go crazy.
Do you learn anything about each candidate’s idiosyncratic tics from watching them so closely?
We’ve got a great cast of characters here. Jeb has been interesting to watch. He sounds so uncomfortable when he speaks, like he might snap at any point. Or he’s just so nervous, he’s just second-guessing everything he’s saying.
[Mike] Huckabee, I love his voice. Occasionally he just really turns on his minister voice. And Ben Carson also is just a funny character to work with. Mainly, to me, he’s just the opposite of Trump. I don’t know if Vine is the best medium for Ben Carson, because he’s so much slower. It’s like you need an hour version of a video for Ben Carson.
You can get something out of anybody. Like, just breathing. If you watch a video long enough, it starts to get absurd. You’ll just see this one frame that looks a little ridiculous out of context. Context is everything. Context is why you can crop Chris Christie dancing with Jimmy Fallon; all of a sudden he’s just dancing by himself and he looks ridiculous.
Do you ever worry that you’re being too mean?
I do feel bad sometimes. I don’t want to vilify Trump. To me, he’s this character, like your crazy uncle. He has these wacky ideas, but he doesn’t really mean any harm. Hopefully that’s more true than not. I don’t want to be negative or too cynical about any of this. We can laugh and have fun.
You don’t have an “Actual Dems” account. And they’re funny, too. I’ve seen some funny moments online, like Bernie Sanders being kicked off the stage by Black Lives Matter protesters, set to the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” theme music, for instance.
I’m torn. It’d be hard for me to do that because I’m a bit of a partisan hack. To do this almost every day, I have to make something funny and I have to make something that satisfies my nervous energy that’s created from this stuff on CNN I’m watching all day. On the other hand, as we get into this season, it’ll make sense to actually start to get Democrats in character for the project. Like, what would the GOP say about Hillary Clinton? Using footage like that is interesting to me. Doing the parody of the attack ad.
As far as making Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders look bad, I don’t know if that’s for me. I wish it was; I want to be completely above it all. I do think there’s a market for that thing, and not just for politics. I was watching NFL yesterday and thought, “Oh, yeah. Actual NFL.” Maybe this is the way I’m just going to protest everything.
Yeah, Vine is great for live moments. Sports games, award shows, debates. It’s the instant replay of the Internet.
I think it’s the future of TV, really. And Trump is the future of politics. It’s definitely a weird time.