Inside Donald Trump and Elon Musk’s growing alliance

As recently as two years ago, Trump and Musk were publicly trading insults. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo (REUTERS)
As recently as two years ago, Trump and Musk were publicly trading insults. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo (REUTERS)

Summary

Donald Trump is considering an advisory role for Elon Musk in the event the former president and presumptive Republican nominee wins a second term in the White House.

Donald Trump and Elon Musk have discussed a possible advisory role for the Tesla leader should the presumptive Republican nominee reclaim the White House, the latest sign that the once-frosty relationship between the two men has thawed.

The role hasn’t been fully hammered out and might not happen, people familiar with the talks said, but the two men discussed ways to give Musk formal input and influence over policies related to border security and the economy, both issues on which Musk has grown more vocal.

Musk, along with the billionaire investor Nelson Peltz, has also briefed Trump on a plan they’ve developed to invest in a data-driven project to prevent voter fraud, according to some of the people. Peltz and Musk also told Trump of an influence campaign in elite circles that is already under way, in which Musk and his political allies host gatherings of powerful business leaders across the country and try to convince them not to support President Biden’s re-election campaign.

As recently as two years ago, Trump and Musk were publicly trading insults. But in recent months, the two men are developing a friendly rapport and talk on the phone several times a month as the election nears, the people familiar with their talks said.

The pair have held discussions on immigration, technology and science, including the U.S. Space Force. Their views and interests have grown more aligned, the people said, with Musk calling Trump directly on his cellphone.

Trump has told Musk, one of the world’s wealthiest people, he wants to find a way to get him more involved if he wins in November.

Musk—who has a long history of flouting convention in the business world—has signaled he isn’t interested in simply writing a check to a super PAC, which can accept unlimited amounts of money from donors and is a popular way for the billionaire class to support candidates. Instead, he has elected to use his clout in elite business and technology circles to help defeat Biden by galvanizing the support of influential allies.

Musk is motivated by anxieties over the direction of the country, according to a person familiar with his thinking. Among other things, Musk has railed against what he calls the “woke mind virus," a catchall for liberal policies including diversity, equity and inclusion programs that conservatives say create divisions.

Musk didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The former president, for his part, is impressed with Musk’s wealth and has embraced the rightward turn of the Tesla CEO’s politics. Musk has said his politics are “fairly moderate" and donated smaller amounts to Democrats and Republicans in past years, according to Federal Election Commission filings. His politics publicly shifted in May 2022, when he tweeted he would vote Republican because Democrats had “become the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them."

Brian Hughes, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said: “President Trump will be the only voice of what role an individual plays in his presidency."

Palm Beach meetup

The discussion around the advisory role and voting project took place at a March gathering at Montsorrel, Peltz’s sprawling oceanfront estate in Palm Beach, Fla., with a group of wealthy and powerful friends, some of the people familiar with the discussions said. The New York Times earlier reported the meeting had occurred, but details of the discussions haven’t been previously disclosed.

As guests nibbled on a Sunday morning breakfast of eggs, bacon and fresh fruit served by Peltz’s household staff, Peltz, Trump and Musk held forth on the November elections, criticizing Biden’s stewardship of the country, the people said.

It was a family affair. Musk and his young son X, who often joins him at events, were part of a group that also included Trump and his 18-year-old son, Barron. Musk and Peltz know each other in part through Peltz’s son Diesel, a tech entrepreneur who is friendly with Musk. Diesel Peltz was at the breakfast as well.

The potential administration advisory gig for Musk would likely be in the mold of the role previously held by Isaac Perlmutter, the former Marvel chairman and confidant to both Peltz and Trump, one of the people said.

During Trump’s first term, Perlmutter was positioned at the Department of Veterans Affairs in an advisory capacity, along with two other members of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound in Florida: a Palm Beach doctor and an attorney. The three spoke to the agency’s staff and weighed in on a range of matters, including budgets, mental-health initiatives, software procurement and overhauling the VA’s record-keeping systems.

Musk served on White House business advisory groups during Trump’s first term as president but resigned from them in 2017 after disagreeing with Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord.

Trump dubbed billionaire investor Carl Icahn, an old business acquaintance, a special adviser to the president on overhauling federal regulations in 2016. When he was named to the post, Icahn had already been helping Trump vet candidates for top posts at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Environmental Protection Agency.

The position wasn’t an official government job, meaning Icahn didn’t get paid but also didn’t have to give up his business dealings.

Icahn resigned from the post less than a year later after drawing criticism for potential conflicts of interest with his investments. He has kept a distance from Trump and Washington since.

Musk and Peltz have told acquaintances they are working on a massive data-driven project to ensure votes are fairly counted, echoing Trump’s accusations of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr, has rejected those claims about the 2020 election. Trump’s campaign and its allies lost dozens of lawsuits challenging the results.

Musk and Peltz described the initiative to Trump in the March meeting, according to a person familiar with that discussion. More details about the antifraud effort couldn’t be learned.

Musk’s business interests

Recent talks between the two men have covered some of Musk’s companies, including the X social-media platform; Tesla, the electric-vehicle maker; and rocket and satellite launcher SpaceX, people familiar with the discussions have said.

Tesla, the world’s most-valuable automaker and Musk’s only public company, has seen its share price fall and recently recorded its lowest profit in years. Musk and Trump have discussed the electric vehicle industry and EV tax credits, according to people close to Trump.

Trump has maintained a tough posture against EVs on the campaign trail. He has criticized how the vehicles need recharging for longer trips and has called for massive tariffs on those made in Mexico, saying it hurts the U.S. auto industry.

Musk has publicly criticized EV subsidies, which Tesla has benefited from, and recently spoke out against tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles and other parts.

Musk has asked Trump to return to posting more actively on X, especially using the “Spaces" live audio feature, people close to Trump said. Trump dominated the platform when it was known as Twitter, boasting more than 88 million followers at one point.

But Trump, who is keen to protect his Truth Social platform that launched in 2022, has only posted on X once since being reinstated to the platform after Musk bought it. Truth Social is owned by the publicly traded Trump Media & Technology Group, which has a market value close to $9 billion.

In conversations with people close to Trump, Musk has been noncommittal on an endorsement, people familiar with the discussions said. Publicly, Musk has made clear his displeasure with Biden but has stopped short of endorsing Trump.

Dinner parties

Musk plans to continue organizing for his anti-Biden cause among an elite group of business leaders whom he counts as friends, people familiar with the plans said.

In April, Musk co-hosted a secret dinner of around a dozen business leaders in Los Angeles. The guests included Peltz; venture capitalist Peter Thiel; former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, chairman emeritus of News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal, according to people familiar with the matter. The gathering was earlier reported by the news outlet Puck.

The group convened at entrepreneur and investor David Sacks’s 11,000 square-foot modern farmhouse atop the Hollywood Hills. Musk and Sacks worked together years ago on PayPal.

The discussion at times centered on how attendees could give money to Trump outside of public view. In February, Trump’s supporters launched a new super PAC called Right For America to help re-elect the former president. The first major donor to the group was Perlmutter, the former Marvel executive. Sacks is co-hosting a coming fundraiser for Trump in San Francisco.

Musk, Peltz and other Trump backers are planning to continue hosting more salon-style dinners and gatherings across the country targeting wealthy, powerful people in business, a person familiar with the matter said. The idea is more about emphasizing what Musk and Peltz see as Biden’s shortcomings than trumpeting Trump himself, this person said.

Alexa Corse contributed to this article.

 

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