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Elon Musk has been getting Trumpier. A direct line to Trump may be next

Elon Musk has sought to accumulate political capital commensurate with his extravagant wealth. In the past year, Musk has publicly opined on global conflicts, met with numerous world leaders and US senators to discuss artificial intelligence and his space and satellite technologies. And he has courted senior Chinese officials on their home turf.

Now he is reportedly exploring what could be his next political project: Becoming an adviser to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

Musk has discussed advising Trump should he win the 2024 election, the Journal reported, citing unnamed sources. Musk called Trump directly via cellphone to explore a role that could potentially give Musk significant influence over US policies. It’s not clear based on the Journal’s reporting which party initiated conversations about the potential role.

The Trump campaign did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment; Musk also did not respond to the Wall Street Journal, but Brian Hughes, a Trump campaign spokesperson, told the outlet: “President Trump will be the only voice of what role an individual plays in his presidency.”

Musk pushed back on the Journal report in a post on X Thursday, saying: “There have not been any discussions of a role for me in a potential Trump Presidency.”

However, a potential role in a future Trump administration could expand upon the role that Musk played in the previous Trump administration, when he served on two business advisory councils before quitting them over Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

The privilege of whispering in Trump’s ear, should he win reelection, could give the billionaire – who is increasingly steeped in the rhetoric and imagery of the conservative culture wars – even more power on the global stage. Reporting that Musk and Trump’s relationship has improved comes after Musk’s politics have become more aligned with Trump’s.

Musk has made supporting right-wing causes — and extremism, in some situations — increasingly central to his identity. He has vocally opposed Covid-19 lockdowns and embraced anti-vaccine ideology. He has elevated conservative speech on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter that he purchased in 2022. And he has pushed racist conspiracy theories about immigration.

Musk has also obsessed over the “woke mind virus,” a term used by some conservatives to describe progressive causes. And he has explicitly called for Republican victories at the ballot box, warning of the country’s impending “doom” if a “red wave” does not materialize in November.

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A more formal alliance with Trump would mark the culmination of Musk’s long, winding quest for political relevance — and could greatly benefit his empire of companies that depend on government support.

‘A blatant conflict of interest’

Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump.

Musk’s various businesses, most notably SpaceX and Tesla, benefit from direct government contracts and federal subsidies. Their fortunes can rise or fall based on US policies governing energy, electric vehicles and the economy writ large.

For Musk to have a direct, private line to a future President Trump “would seem to be a blatant conflict of interest,” said Darrell West, a senior fellow in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution.

The US government routinely solicits feedback from the private sector, and presidents have in the past solicited advice from CEOs and even appointed business leaders to cabinet-level positions. But those are official roles that require government officials to put their holdings in blind trusts.

Less official roles for business leaders are often organized through councils such as the ones Musk participated in previously. In those advisory councils, dozens of stakeholders are invited to weigh in; they frequently involve competitors or rivals and the proceedings are relatively transparent, West said.

Musk’s potential arrangement with Trump could be problematic because of the combination of personal business interests with exclusive access, where the influence could be boundless and immune to any scrutiny, West added.

Additionally, Musk and his companies are currently the target of multiple federal investigations — by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Justice Department, to name a few. Musk and his companies have repeatedly gone to court to challenge aspects of those probes, but they have largely been rebuffed.

It would be egregious if Trump intervened to halt or delay any of these investigations, but even the perception of improper influence would be highly damaging, West said.

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“It destroys the rule of law if a businessperson can cut a deal with a president to protect his own business interests,” West said. “The whole point of capitalism is fair play and people not having special advantages, and there’s a risk that we lose that benefit.”

Meanwhile, Musk’s views on social issues may not necessarily sway Trump in a different direction, given how much they seem to overlap, but the billionaire’s penchant for extreme rhetoric could give Trump political cover for controversial action as president.

Under Musk, a rightward shift at X

Migrants line up to be transferred by US Border Patrol after having crossed the Bravo River in El Paso, Texas, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua State, Mexico, on April 18, 2024.

Musk’s management of Twitter — now known as X — reflects his own lurch to the right.

One of Musk’s first moves after buying Twitter in 2022 was to reinstate Donald Trump’s account, after the former president was suspended for incitement following the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

Since then, Musk has stopped short of using his widely followed X account to endorse a specific US presidential candidate and said in a March post that he didn’t plan to donate money to “either candidate for US President.” But he has repeatedly criticized Biden. This week, he has routinely railed against his policies on the US-Mexico border and immigration.

The billionaire has used his platform to elevate right-leaning political candidates, including hosting the presidential campaign launch for Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who later dropped out of the race, as well as a livestream discussion with third-party hopeful Robert Kennedy, Jr.

Musk has also repeatedly amplified on X fringe conspiracy theories popular in extreme right-wing spaces online, including a baseless claim about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the anti-Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate,” and an antisemitic conspiracy theory often espoused by hate groups (the latter of which Musk later apologized for).

His own posts aside, many of Musk’s changes to X have also contributed to a rightward shift in the platform’s culture.

He reinstated the suspended accounts of White supremacists and conspiracy theorists, saying at the time he was responding to the wishes of platform users who expressed their opinions through an unscientific poll Musk posted from his account. X also made it easier for politicians and political candidates to qualify for newsworthiness exemptions from Twitter’s rules, when they would otherwise have had their content restricted or removed.

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Under Musk’s leadership, X allowed users to purchase blue “verification” checkmarks, adjusted its algorithm to boost the posts of those subscribers and began paying verified users a portion of the ad revenue their posts generate based on their popularity. Many of the users willing to spend $8 per month for a checkmark are those who are ideologically aligned with the billionaire – whose views are now elevated on the platform.

In some cases, the policy shift appears to incentivize problematic behavior: the more extreme or outlandish a post is, the more likely it is to generate significant engagement and therefore the more likely the poster is to receive meaningful ad revenue share dollars if they’ve paid for a blue check.

Musk’s changes to X have helped “the growing normalization of hate and lies which can only be damaging to democracies that are based on compromise, tolerance, science, and truth,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the online watchdog Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).

X sued CCDH last year for allegedly trying to drive away advertisers by publishing reports critical of the platform’s response to hateful content; CCDH won in March, when a federal judge threw out the case and excoriated X for trying to silence the group under a mountain of litigation.

Biden aides told Politico last year that the President’s campaign viewed X as an increasingly hostile platform, although there were no plans to stop posting there.

The Biden campaign on Thursday lashed out at the idea of Musk and Trump working together.

“Despite what Donald Trump thinks, America is not for sale to billionaires, oil and gas executives, or even Elon Musk,” Biden-Harris 2024 spokesperson James Singer said in a statement. “Trump is selling out America to pay his legal bills and put himself in power, while all billionaires like Elon see is a sucker: They know if they cut him campaign checks, he’ll cut their taxes while he cuts Social Security and other benefits for the middle class.”

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