For a while now, Mark Zuckerberg has been acting a little bit less like one of the most powerful tech CEOs on the planet and more like, well, a politician, visiting Americans in their homes and workplaces and penning jargon-y treatises. This, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that Zuckerberg is imminently running for office. As Slate’s Will Oremus noted in January, the task of making Facebook as universally palatable as possible is reason enough to do some retail politicking.
Still, it’s worth noting the particularly politician-like moment Zuckerberg had on Friday, when he had dinner with a Trump-supporting family. The surprise visit was part of Zuckerberg’s 30-state listening tour he announced in a Facebook post in January to “get out and talk to more people about how they’re living, working and thinking about the future.”
The Vindicator of Youngstown reported that the family had been selected for being Democrats who voted for Trump, and that during the dinner, they talked about the Moore family’s work at an orphanage, as well as politics. Ohio, the homeland of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and countless empathetic, soul-searching post-election helicopter reports in the national media, has been a frequent destination for journalists trying to understand the white working class that swung for Trump in 2016. And as a politically crucial state, it has been a highly necessary pit stop for presidential candidates. So it might be Zuckerberg is trying to understand middle America, but this week, anyway, he chose quite the opportune place to understand it.
If it turns out he is eyeing politics, CNN already has his back. In a minute-long video posted Monday, the network offered an unabashedly enthusiastic story on the Facebook CEO brightening the lives of a regular family with his surprise stop. “The more he talked, the more I liked him, and the more I was inspired by him,” Dan Moore, a member of the family, said. The segment ended with Moore, a dazzled Regular Joe who eats with plastic forks, saying, “We toasted to his initiatives, and we did give him crystal wine glasses.”
The video, which also explained the listening tour, included photos of Zuckerberg in a red tractor, as well as in a Ford assembly plant in Michigan, and with a group of Muslim students at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, where he had been earlier that week. You wouldn’t have to edit this much for it to serve as a perfectly usable campaign ad.
As Oremus noted in his post, Zuckerberg might be attempting “a pre-emptive strike against any effort to start a ‘conservative Facebook,’” and so reaching out to Trump supporters fits neatly with the goal. With its trending news controversy, Facebook provoked ire among many conservatives, and that was mostly a case of bungled perception. A dinner with Trump supporters, however intentioned, may simply be good brand management for Zuckerberg.
There’s one other possible consequence, or perhaps benefit, to all of this: that everyone could simply conclude that Zuckerberg—who spent Saturday visiting Daytonites getting opioid treatment before touring a fire department in South Bend and posing with a brat and cheese curds in Madison—stands for absolutely nothing at all.