May 30, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Why Musk is likely the most important business player in U.S. politics right now

Photo illustration of Elon Musk whispering into Donald Trump's ear.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photos: The Washington Post, Variety via Getty Images

Elon Musk has three essential ingredients to unrivaled political power among CEOs: control of a massive social media platform, astonishing personal wealth — and now former President Trump's open and willing ear.

Why it matters: That makes Musk arguably the most important business player in modern American politics. He has the power to sway or repel voters — and stands ready to win or lose big, given his companies' deep ties to government.

Driving the news: Musk and Trump have begun speaking several times a month since privately meeting in March at the home of billionaire investor Nelson Peltz, The Wall Street Journal revealed Wednesday.

  • The two men reportedly have discussed an advisory role for Musk if Trump wins back the White House in November — potentially giving the Tesla CEO influence over economic and border policies.
  • Musk, in turn, briefed Trump in March about his plans to invest in a data-driven project devoted to preventing voter fraud, according to the Journal.

Zoom in: Musk and Trump's rhetorical alignment has moved beyond mutual distaste for President Biden's policies and the excesses of the "woke" left, which Musk cited in 2022 when he voted Republican for the first time.

  • Today, Musk leverages his ownership of the X platform to spread conspiracy theories about Democrats intentionally "importing" millions of undocumented immigrants to vote in elections.
  • He has accused Biden of "treason" and claimed that the U.S. "will become a permanent one-party deep socialist state" if Democrats win control of the White House and Congress in November.

Between the lines: As owner of the de facto town square, Musk has made no secret about his views on the state of American politics — even without explicitly endorsing a candidate for president.

  • With more than 60 posts about Trump and Biden this year, Musk has brought an open ideological tilt to X that few social media executives would dare replicate, according to a New York Times analysis.

The big picture: What remains less clear is how much of Musk's heightened political engagement is driven by business interests vs. a deep-rooted ideology. Sometimes, the two go hand-in-hand.

  • Musk has cozied up to right-wing leaders like Argentina's President Javier Milei, Brazil's ex-President Jair Bolsonaro and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi — then secured corporate benefits in the countries they lead.
  • With Trump — who has vowed to dismantle Biden's electric vehicle policies and escalate his trade war with China, one of Tesla's top markets — Musk's priority is likely a détente with hostile U.S. regulators.
  • Asked last year if he was becoming more political, Musk told the "Lex Fridman Podcast": "I guess if you consider fighting the woke mind virus, which I consider to be a civilizational threat, to be political, then yes."

The intrigue: Musk is one of the world's richest men. Yet he appears unwilling to spend money — at least so far — in his mission to defeat Biden.

  • Instead of writing checks, Musk and like-minded moguls plan to galvanize America's business elite to oppose Biden through dinner parties and salon-style gatherings, according to the Journal.
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