April 24, 2024 - 7:00pm

US President Joe Biden signed a bill on Wednesday forcing the sale of TikTok from its Chinese owners, a move that could result in a national ban of the app.

It’s an odd partisan inversion. Donald Trump was famously adversarial toward China while in office and tried to ban the app by executive order, but he recently came out against the bill that could actually achieve this. Biden, meanwhile, was responsible for reversing Trump’s attempted TikTok ban in 2021, replacing it with a slower approach involving the investigation of national security issues related to foreign-owned apps.

Trump is widely speculated to have been turned against the TikTok ban by GOP donor and TikTok investor Jeff Yass. Trump met with Yass as well as Kellyanne Conway, his former senior counsellor who has ties to Yass and ByteDance, shortly before he formally came out against the ban. The app’s popularity with young people, with whom Trump has been making inroads, could have also influenced the former president.

But there’s also an ideological realignment going on beneath the surface, with old-school Leftists and populist conservatives joining in their opposition to the TikTok ban. Republican foreign policy hawks, such as Tom Cotton, have been the most vocal proponents of a TikTok ban, but a bipartisan consensus has recently joined them in support of a forced sale.

A handful of Republicans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, have opposed the bill over free speech concerns, joining the Left-leaning ACLU in portraying the measure as a Pandora’s box that empowers the government to restrict the flow of information. “Twitter banned me — banned my personal account on which I was campaigning for Congress, raising money and using my free speech to inform the voters in my district they can vote for me,” she said. “This was not by a company owned by China. This was by American-owned Twitter.”

Greene and Trump have both pointed to censorship by American-owned social media companies to dismiss the effort to force a TikTok sale, with the latter recently accusing Facebook of election interference in an apparent reference to the platform censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020.

A portion of the GOP has drifted away from the foreign policy and national security focus that was a defining trait of the party prior to Trump, just as Democrats have become more hawkish on those issues. One can see this in Democrats’ enthusiasm for Ukrainian defence funding and support reauthorising FISA, a surveillance law. That Trump was one of the last in his party to defend TikTok demonstrates that the America First movement is growing independent of the man who ushered it into the spotlight eight years ago.


is UnHerd’s US correspondent.