The 2024 right-wing influencer primary heats up
The first time Donald Trump retweeted him, Alex Bruesewitz was sitting in his high school study hall. It was early in 2016, and Bruesewitz had dashed off a post about how good the TRUMP logo on the future president’s Chicago tower would look on the White House.
Seven years later, Bruesewitz has more than 307,000 followers on Twitter, more than 30,000 on Trump’s Truth Social network, and a full-time hobby of promoting the ex-president and dunking on supporters of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. At this year’s CPAC, the feud came to life, with sometimes pro-DeSantis influencer John Cardillo (309,000+ Twitter followers) calling the 26-year old a “child soldier” and making fun of a tweet in which he’d mocked the governor’s high-heeled boots.
“I’ve garnered a reputation of being a guy who fights for the MAGA movement, and fights for President Trump,” Brusewitz told Semafor this week. “I’m just a fighter, period.”
Republican voters, caring less about the mainstream media’s political coverage than ever before, are paying more attention to how it’s filtered through conservative influencers. Over the last month, as DeSantis made more moves toward a 2024 bid, the highest-output, highest-reach commentators started to take sides. To tweet, or not to tweet, gossip about DeSantis’s eating habits? To share, or not to share, polls that show Trump building a primary lead?
“I think any pressure is coming from the Trump side,” Cardillo told Semafor. “They've pretty much made it known that if you don't pledge absolute fealty, you're going to be personally viciously attacked.”
It’s becoming clear that the voices that shape conservative conversation are increasingly outside what DeSantis calls “legacy media.” It's an environment where an account named "CatTurd2" has the ear of the world's richest man, and posts by Libs of TikTok about drag shows and transgender issues help drive real-world legislation.
Any doubt about that vanished in the Fox News chat trove that surfaced in the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit, which found even its most well-established hosts rushing to play catch-up with their viewers.
So, Shelby Talcott and I asked dozens of GOP strategists to identify who had the most clout with Republican voters. The list was short, with a few names popping up repeatedly.
The most-cited influencer, by far: Jack Posobiec, who progressives mostly associate with the 2016 Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and Republicans identify as a powerful, narrative-shaping voice. He has more than 2 million followers on Twitter, nearly six times as many as National Review, and more than 1 million on Truth Social. Two operatives made the very same prediction, that Posobiec will matter as much to future GOP voters as Washington Post columnist George Will did to Republicans a generation ago.
“I'm Trump all the way,” Posobiec told Semafor. “I think he's gonna win. I don't think the primary’s honestly going to be that tough of a contest.”
Cardillo was frequently named as a voice who could push back against anti-DeSantis narratives, a role he played last month after pro-Trump influencer and failed congressional candidate Laura Loomer posted video of MAGA flag-fliers being told not to bring that gear into a DeSantis book-signing.
Most strategists cited Steve Bannon’s ability to drive stories, and to identify Trump’s enemies, from his “War Room” podcast on Real America’s Voice. The Colorado-based channel was repeatedly named as a source that highly active GOP voters watched closely. Like Newsmax, which many Republicans are backing in its fight with DirectTV, it benefited from anger at Fox News’s early, risky, and accurate call that Joe Biden would carry Arizona in 2020.
The arrest of Bannon benefactor Guo Wengui, which the host hasn’t talked about, never came up. What did was Bannon’s CPAC speech this month, sharing the widespread Trump influencer view that Fox News was out to beat the former president and didn’t deserve attention from conservatives.
“[Rupert] Murdoch, you've deemed Trump's not going to be president,” Bannon said. “Well, we've deemed that you're not going to have a network.”
Both Trump and DeSantis have courted the influencers. After a Washington Post profile revealed that Chaya Raichik was behind the ultra-popular Libs of TikTok Twitter account, DeSantis personally offered her a bed in his governor’s mansion. Trump later had her over for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. This week, she called out Twitter to her 2 million-plus followers after it added a content warning to a DeSantis tweet that said practitioners of gender-affirming medicine “make money off mutilating” children.
But the consensus was that the new media environment, right now, had more pro-Trump voices than pro-DeSantis voices.
“We have CatTurd, they have Cardillo,” said Bruesewitz. “We have Jack Posobiec, they have Bill Mitchell. I think we’re okay."
- The Daily Mail’s Nikki Schwab reports on the DeSantis influencer romance and how a top presidential contender is actively courting some of the above names.
- NBC News looks at how Trump has wined and dined some of the same rising stars.