early and often

Republicans: Leave the World’s Richest Man Alone!

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

In separate press conferences on Tuesday morning, Republicans Kevin McCarthy and Ron DeSantis said they’re very disturbed that our leaders are legitimizing the persecution of marginalized people. No, they’re not worked up about Donald Trump dining with white supremacist and antisemite Nick Fuentes. They’re worried about the Biden administration and Apple potentially taking action against Twitter and its new owner, Elon Musk, the world’s richest man. DeSantis said that would be a “huge, huge mistake,” and McCarthy declared, “I think they should stop picking on Elon Musk.”

Prior to their remarks on Tuesday, neither the House minority leader nor the Florida governor had said anything about Trump’s dinner with Fuentes and Ye, a.k.a. Kanye West, which was first reported four days ago. But it took both men less than 24 hours to respond to a series of Musk tweets on Monday in which he claimed that Apple is engaging in “secret suppression of free speech,” putting a “secret 30% tax” on App Store purchases, and threatening to pull Twitter from its App Store:

It’s unclear what any of this means. It’s no secret that Apple takes 30 percent of revenue generated on its App Store, and there are no further details on this purported threat.

Twitter and Apple have sparred over content moderation for years, and Musk’s attempts to create a free-speech haven and/or destroy the social-media platform could obviously run afoul of Apple’s rules. When asked earlier this month if Twitter could be banned from the App Store, Apple CEO Tim Cook told CBS News, “They say that they are going to continue to moderate and so … I count on them to do that.”

The Biden administration echoed Cook’s vague remark on Monday. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said they’re “keeping a close eye” on the situation at Twitter, noting that social-media companies “have a responsibility” to make sure their platforms aren’t being used to incite violence. Musk painted this as an attack on free speech, calling the remark “messed up.”

Never one to miss a chance to attack a “woke” corporation, DeSantis on Tuesday eagerly defended Musk (who recently reiterated that he’d love to make him president in 2024). DeSantis decried the “reports” (which don’t exist beyond Musk’s tweet) that Apple is threatening to pull the Twitter app simply because the billionaire is “opening it up for free speech and is restoring a lot of accounts that were unfairly and illegitimately suspended for putting out accurate information about COVID.”

The governor did not mention that Musk is also restoring the accounts of known white supremacists and antisemites. DeSantis has said nothing about Trump’s dinner, and he dodged the question when asked if he’s concerned about hate speech during Tuesday’s presser.

But DeSantis did have strong words for Apple, saying that if it goes through with its purported threat, “that would be a huge, huge mistake, and it would be a really raw exercise of monopolistic power that I think would merit a response from the United States Congress.”

A short time later, McCarthy, who is running to be the next Speaker of the House, weighed in on the situation with strong “Leave Britney alone!” vibes. When asked about the White House “keeping an eye on” Twitter, he said, “That is offensive to me. Government’s going to go after someone who wants to have free speech? What do they have to look at Twitter about?”

“You know, Elon Musk has succeeded in many places,” McCarthy added. “I’d bet on him more than government going after you.” So to recap, top Republicans are anti–government going after Elon Musk, but also pro–government going after Apple for going after Elon Musk.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. In the same press conference, McCarthy made his very first public remarks on the Trump controversy that has dominated the headlines for a week. McCarthy said Fuentes “has no place in this Republican Party,” and claimed Trump has condemned the white supremacist four times. When a reporter pointed out that Trump has actually done nothing of the sort, McCarthy said he only knew Ye, not Fuentes.

Minutes later, McCarthy said he’s okay with Trump hanging out with Ye, but not Fuentes. “Look, the president could have meetings with who he wants,” he explained. “I don’t think anybody, though, should have a meeting with Nick Fuentes.”

When reporters noted that Ye has very famously made antisemitic remarks too, McCarthy abruptly reversed course. “I don’t think those are right comments. I don’t think he should have associated with him as well.”

“I’m very clear in my position,” McCarthy concluded. That’s not really true, but we do have a better idea of whom he and DeSantis are interested in defending.

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Republicans: Leave the World’s Richest Man Alone!