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The Inconvenient Truth About Elon Musk’s New Love Affair With Trump
June 5, 2024

The Inconvenient Truth About Elon Musk’s New Love Affair With Trump

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Once the champion of bold and innovative climate solutions, the Tesla CEO has lurched further away from his green ideals toward something else entirely., Elon Musk’s relationship with Donald Trump shows he never cared about climate change

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported on Elon Musk’s increasingly close relationship with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, which has flourished to the point that the two ‘talk on the phone several times a month.’ The conversation subjects tend to cover Trump’s attempt to regain White House control and the potential opportunities for Musk and his companies, like Tesla and SpaceX, under another potential Trump administration.

Musk rejected the report’s central conceit—that Trump had discussed an advisory role for him should the former president be reelected—but he certainly keeps behaving like a typical Trump supplicant. Just look at his X posts following Trump’s 34-count conviction in the New York hush money trial, in which he refers to the process as ‘troubling,’ endorses a Sequoia Capital partner’s $300,000 donation to Trump’s campaign, proclaims that ‘great damage was done today to the public’s faith in the American legal system,’ and reply-guys a couple of characteristically lame Babylon Bee headlines. President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign has responded with a scoff, declaring that, ‘Despite what Donald Trump thinks, America is not for sale to billionaires, oil and gas executives, or even Elon Musk.’

This meeting of extremely online, self-interested minds was perhaps inevitable, in light of a few trends: Trump’s desperation for personal and campaign cash, Musk’s nonstop penchant for open racism and far-right conspiracism, and the increasing overlap of the duo’s personal and business networks—especially with Trump courting grievance-fueled megadonor funds in the immediate aftermath of the verdict. For Musk in particular, this new friendship of convenience also represents a firm endpoint for a foundational part of his identity as a businessman and public figure—and an unmistakable turning point in how he plans to brand and behave himself going forward.

Musk has been a tech industry name for decades now, with origins dating back to the ‘PayPal mafia.’ But remember, what really made him Elon Musk—the megatitan who commands the ears of politicians and executives, became a global name with an inescapable suite of companies, and stood distinct from other wealthy founders—was his eagerness to take on a seemingly impossible mission: to weaponize American industry in the fight to mitigate climate change.

It was his hijacking of Tesla Motors in the mid-2000s, for which he raised money, forced out existing employees, designed and kickstarted production of the pioneering electric Roadster model, and secured a hefty government loan, that kept the company going as the financial crisis shellacked the automotive sector. He further invested in the then-burgeoning domestic markets for solar panels and energy-dense batteries, and spoke out about why addressing climate change was a motivator for his business. He even inspired other environmentally conscious celebrities and encouraged them to boost his profile, putting Tesla models in movies and all. Yes, the space rockets, intergalactic dreams, and NASA contracts played no small part. But it was part and parcel of a futuristic goal that also included lots of green tech, including sleek gas-free cars.

This was such a defining aspect of Musk that it even colored his relationship with Trump, early in the former president’s term. Despite having voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (and for Barack Obama, who offered some lucrative federal contracts, in the preceding presidential cycles), the Tesla CEO joined one of Trump’s executive advisory councils in early 2017, justifying the decision by saying it was better for ‘more moderates to advise‘ Trump as opposed to ‘only extremists.’ Yet he didn’t last long, choosing to resign when Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, after claiming to have ‘done all I can to advise directly to POTUS … that we remain.’

Still, he didn’t brush aside the possibility of voting for Trump in 2020, telling Kara Swisher that Trump was ‘as supportive as he can be‘ of the electric car industry despite his policies in favor of gas cars. Musk was likely alluding to Trump’s professed endorsement of his desire to keep his California Tesla plant open in the thick of the pre-vaccine COVID pandemic.

The SpaceX CEO has said repeatedly that he voted for Joe Biden in 2020, although biographer Walter Isaacson reported that Musk stayed home because he didn’t think his vote mattered in blue state Cali. Isaacson likewise mentioned that Musk grew angry with President Joe Biden after he was not invited to a 2021 presidential event on EVs.

Despite inking a 2023 deal with Biden to open up Tesla’s Supercharger network to adaptability with non-Tesla EVs (earning a personal shoutout from Biden in the process), and despite Musk’s continuing surfeit of government contracts across SpaceX and Tesla, the all-important executive kept swinging to the right—much like some of his other ultrawealthy buddies miffed by the Biden administration’s pro-regulation and pro-union stances.

So, were Musk’s politics a matter of ideology, or personal enrichment? It’s likely that the latter always underpinned the former, considering his bipartisan political donations in the past (and prominent clashes with Republican officeholders like Richard Shelby). At any rate, Musk has now gone full Trump in his public statements and ideological commitments, even as he continues to waffle on donating to or endorsing the former president.

That lack of either endorsement or donation was probably a bummer for Trump at first. He courted Musk back in March when he really needed the money, and raised the idea of having the Neuralink CEO speak at the Republican National Convention in an attempt to attract young voters to the GOP. Around that time, Trump also told CNBC that he’d ‘been friendly with [Musk] over the years. I’ve helped him when I was president. I’ve liked him.’ While he didn’t elaborate, he may have been thinking about his high tariffs on tech imports from China, which hosts a cheap EV industry that’s decimating Tesla in global sales. Biden has kept many of those tariffs in place, but notably, he also signed federal legislation to aid rival car companies (Ford, General Motors, etc.) finally getting into the EV game.

Even beyond business considerations, however, Musk has gone full-on Republican in the Biden years. He took over Twitter, restored Trump’s account, and turned the platform into a cesspool of hateful content and right-wing propaganda—including, but hardly limited to, climate change denial and disinformation, which he now tends to endorse. He kowtows to far-right world leaders like India’s Narendra Modi and Argentina’s Javier Milei while attempting to undermine Brazil’s more liberal government. He rails against Biden on his own platform, a place mainly supported now by ads from Republican organizations and paid-blue-checkmark subscribers—including one, named @TeslaTalent, who’s paid to boost a genuinely surreal pro-Trump ad comparing the former president to a spiritual leader.

Meanwhile, his fixation with the site-formerly-known-as-Twitter has left his onetime priority of running Tesla behind, according to disgruntled investors. His aggressive lawsuit against Media Matters for America, which he lodged after it (accurately) reported on the preponderance of X ads that appeared next to white nationalist posts, has already spurred layoffs at the liberal nonprofit, likely to the delight of Musk and Trump and the MAGA media outlets that MMFA monitored. In April, he helped arrange a dinner party with a group of prominent executives who strategized about beating back Biden and his fellow Democrats; some of the attendees are planning to host a pro-Trump Silicon Valley fundraiser in June. Musk, for his part, plans to host an X-based ‘town hall’ with Trump sometime in the near future, in partnership with NewsNation.

It’s equally telling what Musk’s current-day priorities for Tesla are, especially as the company sheds its once dominant market share and revenue within the EV space. He’s gone all-in on a disastrous Cybertruck and hardly recouped the investment. He wants Tesla’s shareholders to approve a $56 billion pay package for him, even though a Delaware court already struck down the possibility. He laid off the Supercharger team despite his federal deal. He says he no longer considers Tesla a ‘car company’ but rather an avenue for automated self-driving and artificial intelligence tech, no matter the myriad tragic failures of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system.

In the grander scale of things, Musk’s head is somewhere else. Climate change has taken a full back seat to other concerns like rapidly evolving A.I. systems and plummeting birth rates across the world. It seems Musk’s time is better spent these days raising billions of dollars to power an A.I. chatbot that is at best adept at cracking ‘jokes’ about itchy genitals. Or cheerleading a eugenicist ‘pronatalist’ movement whose goal is for (mostly white) people to have lots and lots of kids. Or promoting racist conspiracy theories about immigration and corporate diversity initiatives.

So it hardly matters that candidate Trump is offering explicit quid pro quos to oil industry executives, threatening to ban all electric vehicle sales (much like other Republicans), and preparing to scrap all sorts of green-tech incentives—including the types that once benefited Tesla—if he regains power. Musk may wallow in the fame and power his climate advocacy brought him, but he no longer cares about that pet issue, or the fact that it’s why he’s in his position to begin with.


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