Discover more from The Bulwark
The MAGA mom vlogger-in-chief might just be Trump’s most natural apprentice.
CANDACE OWENS MAKES A FEW GOOD POINTS. Just not very often about politics.
She thinks young women should appreciate their natural beauty and not feel like they need to resort to surgery to build their self-esteem. She finds the Kardashian culture toxic and gives the boot to some of their more questionable sartorial choices. She thinks it’s hypocritical for people to be anti-marijuana but promote drinking which causes even more societal harm. She doesn’t think yoga pants are appropriate for every occasion and wants the culture to embrace getting dressed up for air travel again because the way a society presents itself “impacts your mind and what kind of person you are.” She does not trust Taylor Swift or Ron DeSantis (same) and describes the latter as “weird and inauthentic” (okay, that one’s about politics). She wants her listeners to lead fulfilled lives where they push themselves to be better.
Those are all pretty okay takes! Some of them are even wise and healthy!
Alas, Candace Owens also makes a lot of bad points. Very, very bad points.
Mostly these are about LGBTs, and vaccines, and Donald Trump. There is also vice signaling about celebs caught up in scandal. She sided with Andrew Tate (accused of trafficking girls), Conor McGregor (accused of sexual assault), and Jonah Hill (accused being an insecure jerk of a boyfriend) during their recent difficulties. Her consistent defense of Kanye West’s rabid antisemitism even caused some ripples with Ben Shapiro, who founded the Daily Wire, the site that hosts her eponymous show.
It is this duality of Candace—the softcore life advice intertwined with hardcore cultural warfare—that makes her more disquieting than your median MAGA podcaster. Her show is not targeted at hyper-attuned political nerds who want to follow the latest poll movements. It’s not for fully formed ideologues who know their way around Hayek. She doesn’t do talking points about the outrage of the day for boomers who want to win arguments on The Facebook. And to my surprise—and I just listened to a lot of Candace—her show isn’t a Trump fanzine: She is free with criticism of the Orange God King, certainly more than most of his primary opponents. Sometimes she goes a full week without mentioning him except in passing.
The Candace Owens show is something unique in the MAGA mediasphere. It’s an unholy gumbo of celebrity gossip, pro-tips for moms and young women, adjudication of right-wing commentator beefs, batshit insane conspiracies, anti-trans hysteria, royalist nostalgia, and comfort food for conservative white folks who want to rest easy knowing that it’s Democrats and Black Lives Matter activists who are the real racists.
You might think of the show as a MAGA National Enquirer for the podcast age: Something that appeals to casuals whose interest is piqued in the grocery store line by the promise of a little tea about the debauched lives of the rich and famous, but find themselves getting dosed with reactionary demagoguery as they sift through the pages.
I spent much of the early summer taking it all in.
LEST THERE BE ANY DOUBT about Candace’s reach and whether she merits the amount of time writing this profile required I spend “with” her, I want to take you on a little journey from Reading to Rio to Rocky Top.
In early 2021, after the insurrection dust had settled, my colleague Sarah Longwell began asking voters in her focus groups about the 2024 election and who should lead the GOP. At a Zoom gathering of MAGA voters in Pennsylvania she posed the question, “Is [Trump] still the leader of the party . . . or are there other people that you think should lead the Republican party going forward?”
At first there’s a bit of crosstalk as a few names are blurted out at once. Longwell turns to a gentleman who gives the most common nominations—Trump and DeSantis—before following up with one of the women whose answer was talked over.
“Traci, you said somebody,” Longwell asks.
Longwell takes a two-beat pause before clarifying, “Like . . . from the Daily Wire?”
Traci: “Yeah. I like Ivanka too, not gonna lie.”
Immediately you see the faces of a couple other women in the group light up the screen and when one of them, Danielle, is asked for her answer, she concurs with Traci, “She said Candace Owens, I just think she’s quick. She is a whip, man.”
This might have been the first time in a Bulwark focus group that Candace was volunteered unprompted as someone who could shatter that highest glass ceiling. But it wasn’t the last. In the next two years of focus groups featuring Trump base voters, Candace’s name was volunteered several times as a party leader, as someone who should be considered for the vice presidency in 2024, and even as someone whom people would like someday to see as president of the United States. (In case you were about to google “Candace Owens age” immediately after hearing her name as a vice presidential possibility, I did that too. She turns 35 next April, making her constitutionally eligible. Sleep tight.)
Oftentimes the focus groupers proposing Candace for national leadership roles were like Ivanka-loving Traci—culturally in tune with MAGA but not necessarily ideologues. Some worried that she might be too polarizing—one brought up her ties to Kanye as something that could harm her political prospects—but what was most important was that they saw her in a category completely separate from Washington politicians. She was someone they trusted. Someone who might be able to upend the status quo in D.C. and liven up the stodgy boys’ club that didn’t really represent them.
As caught off guard as I was to initially hear Candace’s name in May 2021, I comforted myself that at least this seemingly crazy idea was coming from some likely suspects, given that they were white, rural Pennsylvanians who watched Newsmax.
Then someone mentioned her to me while I was at Heaven, a gay club in Rio de Janeiro.
LAST YEAR, MY HUSBAND AND I decamped to Brazil for a child-free, post-COVID holiday. The first night at the club, excited to be among other humans, I began chatting up some locals, looking for non-GOOPified recommendations for our time in the city. One of the twentysomethings asked me an unexpected, very D.C.-esque question: “What do you do in America?” When I said political media he replied without missing a beat, “Oh, like Candace Owens?”
Not exactly? But even so, I was intrigued by the suggestion. I asked him how he came across Candace, and he said YouTube. He thought she made provocative points. We went back and forth a bit on the merits of her worldview before I redirected the conversation, trying not to let my vacation be contaminated with thoughts of how we are managing to export our MAGA political culture to Gen Z club kids in another hemisphere.
But maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Candace’s show has 1.8 million subscribers on YouTube—for context this is slightly more than Barstool Sports and slightly less than the Newsmax network. She’s got another million followers on TikTok and she’s coming up on 4 million followers on Twitter.
Candace is so beloved in conservative environs that the Tennessee state legislature issued a joint resolution congratulating her on moving to the state. It reads in part:
WHEREAS, Candace Owens is an astute and highly popular American conservative author, political commentator, and activist; and
WHEREAS, Ms. Owens has earned the admiration and respect of millions of Americans through her activism in support of President Trump as a black woman and her perceptive criticism of creeping socialism and leftist political tyranny; and . . .
WHEREAS, we Tennesseans have always known that socialism is a delusional chimera of the Left that doesn’t work in a free society, that rules and borders are vital to our survival as a nation, and that law-abiding citizens are the very backbone of our society and without whom we cannot prosper; and WHEREAS, Ms. Owens will serve as another robust voice against socialism and criminality as a Tennessean; now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, THE SENATE CONCURRING, that we congratulate Candace Owens on relocating to Tennessee and extend to her our best wishes for success with her new podcast.
That’s quite the official government welcome wagon for a podcaster. So much that it sounds to me like she’s someone these guys might try to recruit to run for the Senate some day to help protect their . . . uh . . . brand.
SPENDING TIME WITH CANDACE’S PODCAST can be a little disorienting if you are an active news consumer. Some days she is down in the Bud Light controversy-du-jour trenches with everyone else. Other days it’s like tuning into a bizarro-world Kelly Clarkson Show.
For example, when Donald Trump was indicted (the second time) the rest of the news world was ablaze. Most MAGA media outlets railed against the Deep State attack on their president. All three major networks interrupted their afternoon programming to show footage.
Candace had other priorities.
During her first podcast following the indictment she spent the preponderance of the show discussing whether it’s appropriate to make fun of Lizzo’s weight (she thinks it is) and how the demimonde influencer class is pushing Brazilian butt lifts on young women. (Candace is against butt lifts—again, sensibly!) The 32-minute episode included a 10-minute segment on how Wild ’N Out star Jacky Oh died following her BBL, with an epic Candace rant about an offensive tweet Azealia Banks sent regarding Oh’s passing.
Candace dedicated barely a minute to Trump that day, leading into her spare commentary with a 40-year-old recording of Soviet defector Yuri Bezmenov talking about “ideological subversion,” which she then riffed on:
That is what we have clearly suffered: an “ideological subversion.” I don’t know at whose behest. I have no idea. In fact, it seems that it might be at the American government’s behest when you take a look at that’s going on. There are still people that are watching now, the second indictment of former President Donald J. Trump and they believe he deserves to be indicted, not that actually what’s really happening is that our very own KGB has been attacking him and has been attacking his family every single day since he announced that he was running for president back in 2015. They can’t see that because they’ve been given so much information that they can’t think straight. They don’t realize the threat of what it means if a former sitting president cannot survive the corruption of the DOJ—what does it mean for you and me. . . .
Say what you want about Candace, not many podcasts can pull off a clean pivot from Bezmenov to Brazilian Butt Lifts. She did it seamlessly.
People are angry, understandably angry. What is going on right now—the indictment of Donald Trump, everything that we saw yesterday—is undoubtedly infuriating. But I’m going to be honest with you: I feel so depressed about it, I woke up and I felt so despaired, I, first thing I did was I looked at the news, looked at all the coverage, looked at what everybody was saying, all the analyses, and I just thought I want to turn my phone off, I want to go away. I think that is how a lot of Americans feel. You can feel angry. You can feel frustrated. But there is also this overwhelming sadness with this understanding that we are in fact losing our country. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, right? I feel that we have to be honest and actually take a look at where we are and assess what is going to happen in the future, right? The gloves are completely off. This has never happened. This is now—America has just become a banana republic.
For some, coming to the conclusion that America has just become a banana republic would invite extensive coverage and analysis, but people who think that way aren’t the audience Candace is serving. Her listeners get the point. The government is coming for them. They don’t need a full breakdown of the details. In fact, given how overwhelming the case against Trump is, more details would only serve to undermine this feeling of persecution that doesn’t care about facts.
What Candace offers instead is more grist for the sociopolitical war that her listeners are foot soldiers in. She pivots from the indictment to a backgrounder on George Soros, explaining that he contributed money to a liberal PAC that supported the campaign of the Manhattan district attorney and offering a lengthy exegesis about Soros’s supposed transgressions trying to survive as a Jewish child amid the Holocaust before closing with the assessment that he is “scum” who should be “banned from the United States of America.” (Freedom!)
She ended her talk about Soros, as she does many of her segments, with a little catchphrase drawn—presumably knowingly—from Forrest Gump: “That’s all I have to say about that.”
The rest of the episode was dedicated to the threat posed by trans ideology, Jill Biden’s supposed slight of the LSU women’s basketball team, and how Alex Murdaugh is getting love letters in jail.
The story is similar when it comes to the 2024 campaign. Candace is a Trump partisan and will occasionally throw him a few flowers, but she doesn’t cover the campaign’s weekly happenings with any vigor. Over the summer she has periodically expressed disappointment with him over his vaccine support and his harsh criticism of Kayleigh McEnany, his former press secretary. Candace has even touched on his narcissistic inability to recognize that loyalty is a two-way street. But these criticisms of Trump are mere venial sins and do not threaten her overarching support.
AS FOR DESANTIS, Candace mentions him rarely, mostly only as an aside. Her coverage of his campaign launch was of the meta variety: She mocked a stupid Vanity Fair headline about the Twitter Space that compared Elon Musk to David Duke. She also took a “donor class” swipe at David Sacks, who hosted the launch event, and she brought up her oft-mentioned annoyance that DeSantis was pretending he wasn’t running for president in the spring when it was obvious he was—a minor misdeed in the grand scheme of things . . . but for Candace it spoke to his phoniness.
Overall the discussion of DeSantis was pretty thin. The total time Candace spent on him in June was outweighed by the time spent on Lizzo, Rose Montoya (the trans person who flashed her breasts at the White House), actress Gabrielle Union’s marriage / parenting, and possibly even Steven Crowder’s custody battle.
As for the more traditional establishment Republicans in the race? They don’t even really exist on Candace’s podcast at all. Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Asa Hutchinson, and Chris Christie are mere apparitions in the imaginary campaign being waged on the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
Understanding the role and reach of MAGA influencers like Candace Owens is central to recognizing what is truly happening with the Republican party today. We put in the hours with Candace and her ilk so our politics coverage here at The Bulwark is richer, deeper, and without any imaginary wishcasting about the state of play. And we keep it free so you can understand what is happening without punishing yourself too much. So this would be a great time to sign up for our email list or Bulwark+ if you haven’t.
The only other 2024 contenders who get frequent mention are Vivek Ramaswamy, who appeared as a guest, and RFK Jr., the fellow anti-vaxxer whom she likes and wants to book on the show despite the fact that he’s a “liberal” who “supports abortion, supports affirmative action and things of that nature.” She is convinced that both Vivek and RFK are in touch with where “the culture” is heading. Or at least where she is trying to direct it.
For a flavor of how she horns campaign news into her show, her Vivek analysis came as part of a recent episode with her 21-year-old occasional female co-host Brett Cooper with the description: “Candace and Brett discuss the negative effects of birth control, their favorite presidential candidates, and the Miranda Sings controversy.” (If you were curious, they were not fans of Miranda’s cringey sing-songy apology for mailing lingerie to a 13-year-old.) In that episode she called Vivek “so refreshing because he’s not getting involved in petty politics, because he’s young, because he’s seeing things from a different angle, he was complimentary of Trump but talked about why he thought it was time to move on from Trump, and he wasn’t derogatory to any person that was running.” It’s abundantly clear that should Trump disappear from the earth, Candace would pivot to Vivek, not DeSantis.
THE DAYS WHERE Candace ignores politics altogether are perhaps the most interesting. She spent an entire episode on teetotalism, which included a lengthy discussion about how Brett was in her second month of getting sober, not because she had a problem with alcohol but just because she didn’t like the way her peers acted around it.
This episode included a monologue with some dime-store revisionist history about how Prohibition was more effective than the elites want you to think and some real talk about the dangerous effects of alcohol in our society. I was particularly engaged by an insightful discussion about how Candace and Brett as women dealt with some of the pressures surrounding drinking in social settings and how they wanted to actively avoid the habit of using booze as a ballast against emotional struggles when it is actually an accelerant. They also covered “hangover guilt” and simply not liking the way drinking made them feel about themselves—particularly from Candace’s perspective as a parent. (She and her husband have two small children and recently announced that a third is on the way.) Candace’s critique of drinking is especially interesting because it’s directly in conflict with the material put out by the Barstool-adjacent MAGA bro influencers, but she delivers it in a non-churchy manner that might hit home with some of those boys too.
I also was engaged by her multi-episode obsession with the surrogacy industrial complex. It was Candace’s stray comment calling Pete Buttigieg “deeply demonic” for using a surrogate that got attention outside her bubble—rightly so given how despicable it is for a shock-jock to put the mark of the beast on two little babies in the ICU. But if you just came across that on Twitter, you’d have missed that the remark was a drive-by-slandering amid a much more complicated discussion that wasn’t about Mayor Pete at all.
Candace is obsessed with the broader questions around surrogacy, in particular the notion that there should be recognition for the challenges faced by women who take on tough pregnancies for wealthy elites who are able to have kids on their own but choose not to. She praised Khloé Kardashian several times for her candor in discussing her complicated feelings about using a surrogate.
Candace brings an unusual level of nuance to this topic when the subject is limited to cisgendered women. For them she hits multiple angles—about how hard the pregnancy is on some of the surrogates, how many have miscarriages, and the ickiness of the notion that someone might feel this is something they have to do out of financial necessity. She does so while acknowledging that surrogacy can be a massive blessing for people (well, straight people) who can’t have kids. She even had a relatively detailed policy conversation about the implications of a bill in California that would expand access to IVF and surrogacy.
This is definitely a category difference from the type of conversation you hear on the Dan Bongino show! But it was marred by how she still managed to dot every discussion with cruel swipes at celebrity women who chose surrogacy in ways she doesn’t approve—and her even more biting remarks targeting the “demonic” LGBTs whom she admonished for using female surrogates only because they “choose” not to have procreative sex.
This is where Candace’s deplorable side is really revealed. Her demonic accusations aren’t limited to political foes like Buttigieg, but the entire trans community, whom she treats as monsters coming for America’s children.
In one episode she described a trans woman as having a merely “rudimentary vulva.” She has said that gender-affirming care laws are “worse than Jim Crow” because we are “mutilating children” and warned that parents have no rights to protect their children from this mutilation if they live in New York or California. She said most trans women are merely “mentally deranged gay men” and was a leading proponent of the Bud Light and Target boycotts.
After the tragic March 27 school shooting in her home state of Tennessee, the New Yorker reported that Candace wrote on Instagram, “I don’t know who needs to hear this but if your instinct—after 9 year old Christian children were ruthlessly slaughtered by a transfendered [sic] lunatic—was to reaffirm your support for the transgendered community, it’s likely because you are a piece of shit.”
Suddenly not so nuanced.
CANDACE HAS DETERMINED that the entire trans community and their allies are “misogynistic” since they don’t respect “real women.” As such, in a podcast that explicitly discusses women’s issues she finds many occasions to take swipes at transgender people and their allies even when it isn’t the topic of the day.
The only group that gets trashed with similar frequency and verve are black folks. Specifically, black activists, celebrities, and random ne’er-do-wells cherry-picked from the news. Candace’s worldview when it comes to her fellow black Americans was best summed up in an episode a few weeks back titled “This Black Girl Is An Embarrassment To America.”
She was not talking about herself.
The girl in question was a black college student who ripped the microphone from an administrator at graduation after her commencement speech was cut off. Candace warned at the top that “if you’re into hoodrat antics, this episode is just not going to be for you,” before going on a lengthy diatribe about black America.
Black people—a certain sector of the black community at least—believes that they no longer have to listen to rules. They no longer have to abide by the laws. They can do criminal things. They can smash up a McDonald’s because it’s Juneteenth and we are celebrating our freedom. They can twerk on top of a Pizza Hut despite paramedics being all around. They can do drugs in the middle of the street. They can disobey police officers; they don’t have to listen to what police officers said. They can swallow fentanyl in lethal doses and die after they swallow fentanyl and still statues will be raised in their honor because I’m black and BLM has rotted our society.
This girl is absolutely despicable. She behaves like a hoodrat. There is no real future for her. Maybe somebody will see her and hire her and put her on the board of a stupid DEI initiative because she is underqualified, obviously extremely uneducated, and utterly irrational, which makes her perfect for a DEI initiative.
A REVIEW OF CANDACE’S OEUVRE would be incomplete without examining her conspiratorial impulses. Unlike some conspiracy theorists, Candace is at least a little self-aware of her tendencies. In a February podcast shared by Media Matters she said, “I like conspiracy theories because I view them as mind yoga. It’s very important to bend your mind like a pretzel sometimes to make sure that you actually have a mind. You know what I’m saying?”
Her MAGA conspiracy-theory vinyasa exercises have included all the major right-wing poses of the past few years: election fraud hysteria and Russian disinfo about Ukraine dot the podcast. She also has some interesting ideas about alleged sex trafficker and rapist Andrew Tate and how Bill Gates is making people allergic to meat with manipulated mosquitos.
Candace’s tendency to embrace conspiracy theories is most vividly on display when it comes to vaccines. She recently debuted an entire miniseries dedicated to this issue—“A Shot in the Dark” (get it?)—the production of which she claims was one of her big demands when negotiating a deal with Daily Wire cofounder Jeremy Boreing. She believes that “Big Medicine is in cahoots, it’s the government in lockstep with the vaccine manufacturers, Big Pharma, all of it is the greatest evil we are ever facing on the planet,” and that “kids are more sick than they’ve ever been” thanks to vaccines.
Which is big if true. (It’s not true.)
THE ONE THING THAT DONALD TRUMP UNDERSTANDS at a base, lizard-brain level that none of his imitators get is that there are a lot of MAGA voters out there who aren’t bogged down with ideas about what it means to be a “conservative.”
Their response to Trump is visceral. The things that grind his gears also grind theirs. They share his resentment of people who think they are better than he is—than they are: the people in charge of the political parties and corporate America and colleges and sports leagues and research labs and banks and movies.
Trump’s conspiratorial anti-conventional ravings about the elites enliven these voters and make them feel like they are part of a big club where “they’re the worst, and we’re awesome,” as David French put it.
And Trump’s base and listeners of Candace’s podcast care deeply about the dominant American culture. What makes these voters most upset isn’t the regulatory state or any of the nerdy shit that the Washington political class cares about. They are upset that people like them are no longer the culture’s main characters. They are being displaced by black mermaids, brown Snow White (it’s white there in the name!), and families with two mommies (or daddies). Hell, even their shitty beer has been co-opted.
What Trump provides them is a countercultural rejection of the wussified elites from within their class. He’s the celebrity for us. He can gladhand with the gilded set at fight night in Vegas without coming off as a dilettante because he is the celebrity by and for the MAGA people.
These are the veins that Candace mines. She shares the MAGA voters’ resentful, conspiratorial view of American elites as masters of the universe who have done “the people” wrong. But she is also in her own right glamorous and a star, rubbing elbows with Kanye and beefing with Cardi B.
In this manner she can engage the “casuals” while also providing them with a totalizing worldview that rings true but doesn’t feel tied down to policy mumbo-jumbo. It’s a worldview where black celebrities are getting a leg up because of their race. Where cisgendered heteros who just want to have regular missionary sex are being persecuted. Where it’s subversive to be a trad wife who dresses modestly. A world where you can see a straight line from Kardashian culture to the Democratic party to the Instagram model showing off her fake butt to the BLM protester smashing windows in Kenosha.
Because once you’ve decided that people who have turned the culture into something you don’t know and you don’t recognize are all part of the same team that must be defeated, you see them everywhere you look.
It’s only natural, then, to think that the best way to fight the cultural hegemons is with someone who understands how to beat them at their own game. Someone like Trump.
The next person who makes it seem as if they can do that will be his true heir.
And who better than Candace?
That’s all I have to say about that.
The Bulwark is a reader-supported publication. The support of our Bulwark+ member means we can keep most of what we do here in front of the paywall. Consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.