TikTok in MAGA Land

David McIntosh
TikTok’s influence campaign was poorly timed, out of step with current conservative moods, began far too late, and ultimately turned off lawmakers with its aggressive tactics. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Tina Nguyen
March 13, 2024

It’s funny how so many Republican hardliners—including China hawks who’d decried TikTok as a Communist psyop—have suddenly become civil libertarians now that Congress is finally doing something about ByteDance, the app’s China-based parentco. In the end, 15 Republicans (and 50 Democrats) voted against the bill, raising the question: Which of the nays were actually limited-government types voting their principles, which were doing the bidding of the Club for Growth, and which were simply going along with Donald Trump?  

The C.F.G., the limited government, libertarian-leaning conservative activist group, was a staunch opponent of Trump in 2016, but on the TikTok issue they’ve been totally aligned. As my partner Teddy Schleifer has reported, one of the Club’s biggest donors is Jeff Yass, a billionaire investor whose fund has a massive stake in ByteDance. Over the past few days, I’m told the group has been furiously whipping candidates they’ve backed in the past, such as Thomas Massie, Scott Perry, Greg Steube, Dan Bishop, Nancy Mace, David Schweikert, Barry Moore, Andy Biggs, Tom McClintock, and Warren Davidson, all of whom voted against the divestment bill. Some of them are ideologically aligned with C.F.G. (Massie, Mace, McClintock, and Bishop automatically passed the smell test). Then there are MAGA heads like Biggs, who previously introduced a resolution declaring China “the greatest foreign threat” and specifically cited their “access to the personal data of most citizens of the United States.” I guess he had a change of heart.