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Saturday, Apr 20, 2024

This former Trump White House official says Republicans are 'such nerds' for pushing a 'ridiculous' ban on TikTok

This former Trump White House official says Republicans are 'such nerds' for pushing a 'ridiculous' ban on TikTok

John McEntee, co-founder of the conservative dating app The Right Stuff, says he's "pro-TikTok" and uses the platform to reach a wider audience.

Republicans have largely led the charge on trying to ban TikTok nationwide, drawing on fears that China is using the popular video-sharing app to gather data on US citizens for malicious purposes.

But John McEntee, who worked as a top White House staffer when former President Donald Trump attempted to ban the app via executive order, says he's unabashedly "pro-TikTok" and insists the push from the right to ban the Chinese-owned app is "ridiculous."

"I think Republicans are such nerds for even doing this," McEntee, the one-time Director of the Official of Presidential Personnel, told Insider in an interview on Thursday.

McEntee, 32, began his political career as Trump's personal assistant during the 2016 campaign. Fired by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in 2018 amid an investigation into his finances, he was later brought back on by Trump after Kelly's own firing and installed as the head of the personnel office in 2020.

In that job, he reportedly scrutinized White House staffers for their perceived loyalty and played a significant role in the effort to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results on January 6, 2021.

But today, he's playing a far different role — attempting to build a fledgling right-wing dating app called "The Right Stuff" from an office based in Southern California.

The venture, backed by right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel, has attracted some controversy and while struggling to build a strong user base. One of the prompts on the app asks users for their opinion about January 6, which McEntee said was "actually kind of an interesting conversation starter."

"Some people think, 'Wow, that was amazing that people stood up and protested,' right? And others think that was the worst thing ever for our party," said McEntee. "Others think it was embarrassing, some people think it was, you know, infiltrated by the feds."

Recently, McEntee and his team have turned to TikTok with the explicit goal of leveraging the app's famed algorithm to reach a broader audience.

"You're not gonna really go viral on YouTube anymore," said McEntee. "That had its day."
The Right Stuff's TikTok page is chock-full of attempts at going viral, including skits caricaturing liberals for extreme cautiousness about COVID-19 protocols, various jokes about pronouns and gender identity, or videos showcasing that McEntee remains single.

And they've attracted attention along the way.

In one widely-viewed TikTok, McEntee dances to Demi Lovato's "La La Land" while riffing on liberals attending their first protest, making hand-horns as Lovato sings the phrase "converse with my dress."

The clip, which has amassed millions of views, has apparently spawned widespread mockery among TikTok's predominantly-liberal user base, with users leaving variations of the phrase "converse" surrounded by hand-horn emojis on other skits on the page.
"They make fun of me as much as I make fun of them, you know?" said McEntee.

Nonetheless, McEntee says that the TikTok push is working, and that app downloads spike whenever one of The Right Stuff's videos goes viral. He estimated that The Right Stuff has "somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 monthly active users" and that the company had approximately 16,000 downloads in March — up from just 4,000 in January. (App intelligence firm Sensor Tower estimates the app had about 10,000 downloads last month.)


'Okay, China got one on us'


But the TikTok promotion efforts come amid the backdrop of renewed calls, especially from his own party, to ban an app that's said to have 150 million users in the United States.

Republican senators like Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida speak of the app in ominous terms, warning of the potential impact on children and the looming threat of the Chinese Communist Party. Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the chairman of a new House select committee on China, has labeled the app "digital fentanyl."

But McEntee says he remains unconvinced of the arguments around malign Chinese influence, arguing that TikTok's data practices are "pretty much similar to every other app" and that Republicans just "think they're throwing red meat to their base" by being tough on China.

"It is a Chinese company," McEntee acknowledged. "But you know, okay, China got one on us. They made a better product. It's like, too bad."

"What, China knows I like watching videos of a guy who makes things out of chocolate?" he continued. "So what?"

He also argued that Republicans are focusing on TikTok because they're unwilling to go after Big Tech writ large.

"They're not going to do the hard thing, right? They're not going to take on Google and Facebook," he said. "But they see an opportunity by using China."

McEntee also said that despite his political differences with Rep. Jamaal Bowman, he "could not agree more" with the New York Democrat's declaration that Republicans want to ban TikTok because they "ain't got no swag."


 Nonetheless, McEntee says that he does expect the app to eventually be banned in some manner.

"We'll just keep using it until they ban it, and then we'll move on," he said. "But it's been great for our business."

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