Dec 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The Republicanization of Elon Musk

Photo illustration of Elon Musk behind a red-tinted magnifying glass

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images

Elon Musk's public musings over the last six months have cemented an unmistakable new reality: The world's richest man, and owner of the de facto public square, has become more and more Republican.

Why it matters: It's a stunning political transformation for the Obama, Clinton and Biden-voting CEO of the most successful electric-vehicle company on Earth. And it's one with major real-world implications, given the significant influence Musk now wields in shaping the rules of online public debate.

Driving the news: Musk revealed last week that he would vote for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis if he runs for president in 2024, calling the GOP rising star a "sensible and centrist" option.

  • The day before the midterms, Musk urged "independent-minded voters" to vote for Republicans, citing the need to "balance" a Democratic presidency.
  • The billionaire insists he is "neither conventionally right nor left" — but he also says the threat to free speech allegedly posed by Democrats has triggered a "battle for the future of civilization" that trumps all other policy issues.
  • COVID restrictions, high taxes and regulations in California also spurred an ideological shift right, and a physical move to Texas, now the home of Tesla's headquarters.
  • Musk's disillusionment with the Democratic Party has only accelerated — or at least, it has become more public — since his acquisition of Twitter.

Between the lines: Over the last several months, Musk has frequently trolled Democrats and engaged with right-wing commentators who view him as a like-minded culture warrior.

  • "The woke mind virus has thoroughly penetrated entertainment and is pushing civilization towards suicide," Musk tweeted last week. "There needs to be a counter-narrative."
  • Musk has cited criticism from progressive politicians like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a central factor in his political evolution — at one point calling Democrats "the party of division & hate."
  • He's even claimed attacks from Democratic politicians are "coordinated," tweeting on Tuesday: "Outside of party leadership and independents like Manchin, they are essentially actors on the political stage, not directors or script writers."

The intrigue: High-profile Republicans gained tens of thousands of followers in the weeks after Musk acquired Twitter, while their Democratic counterparts lost followers, according to a Washington Post analysis.

  • It's unclear what precisely is driving the fluctuations, but "the pattern suggests that tens of thousands of liberals may be leaving the site while conservatives are joining or becoming more active, shifting the demographics of the site under Musk’s ownership," the Post writes.

The big picture: Republicans, for now, have been happy to cling to Musk's coattails and use his "free speech" crusade to clobber their Democratic and Big Tech rivals.

  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) demanded on Tuesday that the Biden administration "stop picking on Elon Musk" after the White House suggested it was "keeping a close eye" on changes to Twitter's misinformation and hate-speech policies.

What we're watching: One sleeping giant threatens the Musk-GOP symbiosis: The Tesla CEO has massive business interests in China, a regime viewed by Republicans as the No. 1 geopolitical threat facing the U.S.

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