Top Conservative Cat: A Q&A with Twitter's voice for the 1 purr-cent

    Most cats are only interested in sleeping, eating, awkwardly staring at you and giving certain North by Northwestern politics writers allergic reactions within five minutes of first, itchy contact. But where other cats merely meow and pur, a certain fiscally conservative feline makes his staunchly republican poltical feeling known on Twitter. Ladies and gents, meet the Top Conservative Cat (@TeaPartyCat).

    What started out as an outlet for a 40-year-old Chicago man in the adverstising industry, who requested to remain anonymous over concern for his job, to troll conservatives on Twitter exploded into one of the most popular political satire handles on Twitter with more than 55,000 followers.

    The account has been around since 2009, but quickly went viral once the 2012 Republican presidential primary heated up earlier this year. Last week, the mind behind Top Conservative Cat met with NBN to talk the account's rise to fame, how a tweet is made, and Top Conservative Cat's role in political discourse.

    How did TCC become what it is today?

    It was pretty clear that context of my own personal account didn't work for mixing some satire in with the rest and so I created a second account and at the time I called it the T-Cat [@theTCAT] for the top conservative cat on Twitter because in those days the #TCOT hashtag was very big for conservatives. That was their way to connect with each other and there was a leaderboard that was collecting all those in real time and putting them up so I largely was using it harass people – well not harass people, but mock them on their own board whereas nowadays, Tea Party Cat is mostly liberals enjoying the satire, this was mostly "Can you see the problem with what you're saying?"

    When did you know you had something big with TCC?

    There was a period of time in January and February [2012] where I completely turned over all of my followers. All of the conservatives who were mistakenly following me disappeared and more and more people started discovering it and then sharing it and then I want to say from February until September it doubled every two months. In January I had maybe 3,000 [followers] but like I said most of those were people who were going to abandon me after they figured out what I was doing and I started tweeting a lot more. Prior to that there were only a few tweets month, but then it was 10 to 20 a day and when there's something to live tweet like a debate or something like that it could be 40, 50, 100 even.

    Why do you think TCC is so successful?

    I think it was just because people liked it. It was something different. I mean I like Colbert, but he's on a half hour a night pretty much five hours the day's news is over and 40 weeks a year. So there's plenty of other time people would like to have that satire so that's what I've been doing.

    Who are your favorite politicians to satire?

    Well I always thought that Rick Santorum was always the easiest guy to write for because he's so hateful, he's so driven by hate and fear. I actually find that it's surprising that I have a real hard time with Michele Bachmann sometimes because she's so crazy. It's just like "How do you make her sound more ridiculous than she does?" One of the things that kind of inspired me in the 2008 was the fake Sarah Palin account. I just thought they did a really good job. I thought they really captured how she thinks about things, how she approaches her talks, but having a single purpose account...when you have something that's tied to that one person you really limit yourself unless they win election and they're going forever.

    How do you think of your tweets? Do they come to mind randomly or do you sit out and plan them? 

    It's a combination. Sometimes I see breaking news and I know immediately what to do or I come up witha few quick things and I've also learned that it's ok more than one way to attack it, just – unless it's happening right at that moment – don't load them up one after another, try to spread them out throughout the day....It's good because people are on at different times. They're not going to go back 12 hours.

    Usually what it comes down to is I get up in the morning, read [the news] and I probably come up with enough to get me through at least lunch. Then usually at lunch I'll spend a half-hour while I'm eating reading and I'll come up with a handful more and that will get me until 5 o' clock. And then on my way home I might write one or two more and then some point in the evening I'll probably write a few more. So I'm really on like four or five times a day in bursts, but anybody who wants to follow can get it whenever they want.

    What do you think makes TCC stand out from other political humor accounts? 

    Well I think what makes mine stand out is that it's satire only. I think that makes me more specific. I think that also gives me less freedom in what I write. But it always sets the context. People know exactly what they're going to get from the Cat. I think satire is hard to write and in some ways its hard to appreciate. I think people love The Daily Show but they still have a hard time with Colbert. They like it, but sometimes it just sounds too much like the people that annoy them.

    When you're writing tweets, do you have any guidelines or boundaries? 

    I have noticed that I put limits on myself, but I don't know if I thought of them as explicit limits. Even if I felt like the character is racist or the person talking is racist, I would have a really hard time composing something outright racist because it would be too uncomfortable for me to do. In those ways I would probably go more towards a juxtaposition. Also I don't want for something like that to get re-tweeted a bunch of times and show up in people's feeds with no context and they think "This person is racist." They get it wrong on something that important.

    What role do you think TCC and other political satire accounts play the context of today's Internet journalism? 

    I think that satire and comedy form some sort of check on politics from media, I think in the same way the media serves as a check on the government and politicians. How great is it? I don't know...Some people just don't have the discipline to read the news everyday. They're vaguely aware of it, but something like comedy gets them more interested in more involved. More likely to vote, maybe. Maybe more like to vote the way I'd like them to vote...I think some part of their decision to vote may be based on social media to the extent that without that, they kind of felt like either [candidate] would be fine, but it's not as true as people used to think or it used to be.

    All campaign season, the focus was on the undecided vote. Do you think TCC might have played a role in swayed that vote toward Obama? 

    I don't know that I persuaded any undecided voters, I would guess that if I had any effect, my effect would have been to get more people to feel more passionate about our side then they would have.

    Now that the election is over and Obama is headed back for a second term, are you worried that your readership might fall off? 

    Personally I plan to continue it, but I expect they'll be less news. I'm tweeting far less than I was a week ago already. You know, as news happens I'll use it and when there's no news I won't force it. As people continue to do crazy things in politics they'll continue to be a voice for what I'm doing.


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