David Remnick: Fox was, for a long time, the only big conservative news outlet out there. There's now a whole universe of right-wing and far-right media. One of the major players here is the Daily Wire. Along with the news, it produces documentaries, TV shows, and especially podcasts. Podcasts that feature such voices as Ben Shapiro, who talks a lot about woke college campuses, and the men's movement guru, Jordan Peterson. In this largely white male group, Candace Owens stands out. Owens got her start on YouTube early in the Trump era with a coming-out spoof that went viral.
Candace Owens: Mom, dad, I'm a lesbian. I like girls.
Mom: Oh, sweetheart. We always knew.
Dad: The bottom line, we just want our children to be happy. We love you regardless.
Mom: Brave soul.
Candace Owens: Thank you, guys. Also, I think I might be a conservative.
Mom: [coughs] I don't understand.
David Remnick: She then emerged as a fierce supporter of President Trump.
Candace Owens: One more question, because I'm sure you've gotten this question tons of times, but are you going to run in 2024? If so, can I be your vice president?
Donald Trump: God. That's very interesting. Wow. What a good choice that would be. That would be fantastic.
Candace Owens: Trump-Owens '24.
Donald Trump: Yes, I think that's a great-- You would be fantastic. I really appreciate the job you do, and everybody does. The [inaudible 00:01:31].
David Remnick: Owens commands an online following in the millions, and she's leading a movement to bring right-wing politics to a younger and more female audience. Our media reporter, Clare Malone, went to see Candace Owens recently at the offices of the Daily Wire in Nashville.
Now, Clare, I just had a long talk about Tucker Carlson with our colleagues, Kelefa Sanneh and Andrew Marantz. We talked about whether someone like Candace Owens could succeed in his time slot on Fox News. What do you think?
Clare Malone: I think that's a really interesting question, and I think purely on the mechanics of that job, and by that speaking directly to a camera, monologuing not having other people you need to bounce off of, Candace can do that. She can do it in the same way that Tucker Carlson or Rush Limbaugh or any other conservative talk radio person can do it.
I think she could actually do the job. There are two other factors that I think maybe would prevent her from actually doing that. One is, I would say, the sexism of cable television. I think people who run Fox probably think that they need an anchorman in that 8:00 PM slot. I get a lot of notes whenever I'm on a podcast about the way I speak or my cadence, and I'm sure Candace would also get those. Lots of women get that feedback. It's easier to pillory a woman in that way. I think that would probably hold Fox execs back from giving a woman the 8:00 PM slot. Personal opinion.
Then the second factor, I think is, I don't know if Candace would want to do something like that. Even though the 8:00 PM slot on Fox News is a huge prestige spot in conservative media, she likes that she's speaking to a younger and specific audience on the Daily Wire. She gets to do her own thing, and I think she's got pretty free range. I'm not sure if she would actually accept a position at Fox News.
David Remnick: Clare, very often in a story like this, there's a rosebud moment, a pivot moment in somebody's life that turns them from one thing to another. Here's a woman that began at least in her youth, she was a pretty standard issue liberal, African American, left-leaning. Was there a moment where she changed radically, or where she sees that she changed radically?
Clare Malone: There's a really pivotal moment in Candace's life when she's a 17-year-old senior in high school in Stamford, Connecticut. She was friends with this boy at school. They had a falling out. He was suspended from school. He gets angry at her, calls her, and leaves her very nasty, racist, threatening voicemails while he's in the car with three other boys.
Now, as it turns out, one of those boys is the 14-year-old son of then Stamford mayor Dannel Malloy, who had later become the governor of Connecticut. Basically, what happens is this turns into a good old-fashioned political scandal. Unfortunately for Candace, she is the 17-year-old at the center of it. She was out of school for six weeks. When she comes back, she's surrounded by her family members and the NAACP. There's a lot of local discourse about whether or not she's just faking all of this for attention. I think what Candace took away from that experience was she didn't like being a victim.
She didn't like feeling powerless. I think there was a lot of personal fallout for her from that moment. She talks about it as a moment where she lost control. She developed an eating disorder, she says, as a reaction to that. She wanted to regain control. I think even in her life, she's a 30-something-year-old woman now, a huge narrative when she speaks to her social media followers or she speaks on her podcast, she talks about shedding a victim mentality.
Clare Malone: That is your persona, like tough, tough girl.
Candace Owens: Tough life. I think that it sets me apart. It shouldn't. I heard you speak to this today, I think it's really weird that we live in this society where everyone's hand is being held at all times and they're being told they're amazing and they're great, and they're obviously not an amazing, and they're obviously not great. They could be. They could be better than they were yesterday. We all have bad days. I certainly have them. Life's tough. Get a helmet, I guess, is my perspective. If we all sat around and Kumbaya'ed and held hands like Drew Barrymore and Dylan Mulvaney, we'd never get off the floor.
Clare Malone: To explain that last little jab. Drew Barrymore now has a talk show, the Drew Barrymore Show. On it, Drew Barrymore had this admittedly awkward TV moment where she kneeled in front of this infamous in conservative circles, trans influencer named Dylan Mulvaney. That's the kind of pop culture moment that Candace really latches onto because her thing now is talking about pop culture, being very fluent in it, but also telling her listeners, "Here's what's perverse about it." Candace is very, very, anti-trans.
David Remnick: How does she differ, if she differs at all, other than the age of her audience, from Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and that group?
Clare Malone: Perhaps first and foremost, though she came into our consciousness as this gungho Trump supporter and focusing on electoral politics-- We were all glued to the Trump administration and what was going on. I think she's made this interesting shift and she chalks it up to becoming a mother. She now has two kids, where she's focusing a lot more on culture issues. Pop culture, even things like vaccines, she does not believe in any vaccination. The cleanliness of household products.
There's a little bit of a conspiratorial mindset at work. Be suspicious of everything that's presented to you by mainstream culture. Candace is really focusing on pop culture as something that conservatives have ignored and something that it's important for them not to ignore. Candace and I talked a lot about her audience and what maybe makes it different from other Daily Wire hosts.
If you think about someone like Ben Shapiro, he has a pretty male audience, and she told me that Jeremy Boreing, who's the Daily Wire CEO, he told her that her audience is actually special and different from other Daily Wire hosts.
Candace Owens: Teenagers to 90-year-olds consume my content, which is super interesting. I think that one thing that we've realized is a lot of moms follow me. I have a very strong mother demographic, and I think that's because a lot of stuff I speak about, that I'm passionate about is children, so that makes sense. Yoga pants, who's going to watch that and be like, "Ah." It's going to be moms, which I have fun with. I am very proud of the work that I do, especially because a lot of it speaks to moms. I'm left on the right. That was a very exciting time for me.
David Remnick: All right, so she's against yoga pants. First of all, I'd like to know what that signifies, but when she talks about a mom demographic, what other topics is she talking about and why?
Clare Malone: Just to quickly explain the yoga pants, Candace has a half-joking, half-serious thing that American women look too sloppy. They need to try harder, they need to beautify themselves. Actually, it's silly and she knows it's a little silly, but it's connected to this bigger thing of what she's talking to our audience about, which is basically traditionalism.
She thinks that women should be women and men should be men. Candace acts that out via social media, via podcasts. "This is what a woman should be." She should cook dinner for her husband, she should garden, she should beautify herself and she should care about her children's school. What's happening? What pronouns are they trying to get your children to use at school? This is an example that Candace brought up to me. I think Candace is actually talking about issues that a lot of Americans think about. Now, is the way that Candace approaches this smart? I don't know. She has really harsh language. She has really a lot of retrograde ideas.
Someone said to me like, "I think of Candace Owens as the Phyllis Schlafly of the Instagram age," because she's pushing traditional feminine roles.
Candace Owens: I loved my femininity. I celebrate Femininity. I tell women this weird culture of telling women to de-beautify themselves, to be more masculine. It's just bad. It's just bad. I believe that femininity is a absolute gift. It should be treated as such. I am the opposite of Lena Dunham, I think it would be fair to say. Whatever she brought in, I'm the opposite of that. Girls are like, "I haven't shaved my armpits and this is encouraging. I'm overweight and now if you don't like it, there's something wrong with you." I challenge you the other way. It's like you don't need to be a size zero. There's opposite extremes and they're not healthy, but to take care of yourself-- When did we start looking down on taking care of yourself?
David Remnick: Phyllis Schlafly, for those who don't remember, was anti-feminist activist who organized against the Equal Rights Amendment in the '70s. Then you have Lena Dunham, who of course was the originator and star of the show Girls, which projected, I would say, think it's fair to say, a very different view of the world than Phyllis Schlafly. She thinks this is a winner. Is she wrong?
Clare Malone: Candace, again, picks out these moments in pop culture where maybe an audience does have a reaction to not shaving your armpits, or trans activists being on TV and talking about their experience. Maybe people are uncomfortable with those things that go outside the traditional, to use the freshman year gender studies class term, the performance of gender. Again, she does it in this really harsh-cutting way.
David Remnick: Exactly.
Clare Malone: I talked a lot about that with her. I said, "Even if you believe that you are on the right side of history on all those issues, isn't there something to be said for persuasion, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." I would also say that the way she tells it, she's also trying to pierce this liberal Hollywood thought bubble.
Candace Owens: The problem when there is just an applause and you think it's great and it's a Hollywood applause, and you see your favorite actors, like if I was a kid and saw Denzel Washington applauding something, I'm like, "Oh my gosh. Well, I think he's so cool, then it must be cool." You have to answer that. You have to say it's not cool, actually. Let me actually make you understand what this really entails because if you go down this route and you decide to take puberty blockers, again, using an example of Dylan Mulvaney, because we're talking about trans issues.
Here's what can happen to your body and here is why I bring you Walt Heyer. Here's why I bring these other people that went through this route. Here's why I bring people that are suing their doctors. We talk to culture because it needs a response.
Clare Malone: Just so people know, Walt Heyer, who Candace is referring to there, is someone who lived for a few years as a transgender woman and then de-transitioned.
Candace Owens: You can't fight culture by refusing to talk about it. It doesn't even make sense. This has been, in my opinion, a huge reason that conservatives ceded so much ground to the left because we stuck up our nose to culture. I don't stick up my nose to culture. I consume culture and it is very important for me to contextualize culture so that for all the young teenagers that are following me, rather than just seeing Dylan Mulvaney pretending to be a woman and receiving awards and being applauded by Hollywood and sitting down with Drew Barrymore and thinking, "Wow, that's really cool," they now have somebody talking about this and saying, "Actually, this isn't cool." Now, they can start thinking critically, which makes more sense to me.
David Remnick: She made some pretty explosive comments about gender during your interview, and she does that routinely. She's also extremely provocative on race, like last fall when she and Kanye West, who she's close to, showed up to Paris Fashion Week in matching shirts that said, "White Lives Matter." What kind of argument were those two trying to make?
Clare Malone: This is the argument that has been Candace's bread and butter since she broke out. She talks about how Black Americans, in her phraseology, need to leave the plantation of the Democratic Party. She's purposefully provocative in that language. She's been extremely critical of the Black Lives Matter movement and about George Floyd in particular. Here's what she said on her show, the day that the verdict was delivered for Derek Chauvin.
Candace Owens: I have to appreciate people that were trying to create a pressure campaign for me on Twitter saying, "I wonder what Candace is going to say." Even Republicans agree that this was the right call. I don't care who agrees that this was the right-- I don't care if it's a Republican. I don't care if you're a Democrat. I don't care if it's a white person. I don't care if it's a Black person. I am not so much of an intellectual coward that because the mob decides something, because the lie about George Floyd and the way that he lived his life has become so big that we just have to now accept it as the truth. Believe me, this is a lie.
Clare Malone: The lie she's referring to is what she sees as the media whitewashing of Floyd's personal shortcomings. She made a documentary that focused heavily on his history of addiction. Candace continues to say that Floyd died from an overdose, though that was determined not to be the primary cause of his death.
David Remnick: This is a hard question, but how sincere is she about what she says about George Floyd? Yes, we know George Floyd's life was complicated. Nobody is disputing that, but isn't this just a naked grab for audience attention and everything that goes with it?
Clare Malone: You're right. It is a hard question. I talked to Leah Wright Rigueur, who's a scholar who wrote a book called The Loneliness of the Black Republican. She's someone who thinks a lot about Candace. Leah puts Candace in this category of racial provocateur, of which there's a long history in the US. I think what's different about Candace is the technology that she's operating with. Do I think she believes those very personal critiques of George Floyd? Yes, I do. I think that she's got a very contrarian, conspiratorial worldview and she immediately reacted to what she saw was an undue hagiography of a flawed person. I also think she can be quite harsh in her judgments of people.
I also think she knows very cynically what subjects will go viral. Being a provocateur, talking about George Floyd in this really mean way, she knows will go viral. This digital age means that Candace's platform technology helps amplify what is a small group of right-wing Black Americans saying really outré things, in some ways giving cover for white Americans who think that the George Floyd story is a conspiracy to say, "Oh, well look, a Black person said it. I'm not being racist if I say this thing." Candace is providing cover.
David Remnick: Finally, let's look at 2024 and I want to listen carefully to this exchange that you had with Candace Owens about what she thinks might be the crucial culture war issues in the presidential race coming up.
Candace Owens: It really mattered when mom started showing up at the school boards and realizing what was in the books. I think moms are starting to pay more attention to what's happening. It's not necessarily just transgenderism, it's everything that's happening in the classroom. Suddenly it feels like we're in a custody dispute with the state for our children. I think that moms are responding to that. I do think that me speaking to mothers, I hope it will have real-world implications in the election because it's usually moms that are opening up the mail, speaking with their husbands about who to vote for.
I hope that I encourage mothers to be more tuned into that thing. I think that some of the toxicities surrounding feminism and why I shirk away from it is that it encouraged mothers to just trust the state to raise their kids. You go get a job and be like dad and be like men and this will put you on equal footing.
Clare Malone: You have a job, though.
Candace Owens: I have no issue women having jobs at all. Obviously, I have a job. I'm just saying that there was this pressure that basically said to women that, "If you stay at home and you are instead spending all of your time doing this, then it's because you're serving the patriarchy." I had that brainwashing taking place at my university when I was forced to take a Women's Studies class and they basically, that was the whole point. Men are awful. Men are terrible. One way that you can beat men is to compete with them at every level. I don't feel that way anymore. I don't feel like I want to compete with men and I, again, give women permission to aspire to be a stay-at-home mom.
David Remnick: All right. Let's leave aside the assertion that she was forced to take a Women's Studies class. That bears checking, but she is using the word over and over again. It's like a mantra of, "Moms, moms, I'm speaking to you." Do you think in the upcoming race that that could really help. You've got all these male culture warriors on the right. You've got DeSantis himself who's making culture more and more and more the center of his campaign, and Trump, of course. Do you think this works for the Republicans?
Clare Malone: I do think it works to appeal to women. Mitch McConnell, the night of the 2020 election, I believe, said, "We lost too many women." I think this is something that the Republicans know. I do think that there's something to be said for moms, for suburban women turning out in elections. We saw it in 2016 and two years ago in Virginia when suburban women swung to the right and voted in a governor who campaigned on COVID-era school closures and education policy. People vote based on real worry about their kids.
You can't find any issue more personal than that. I think Candace is poised to have an influence on this group that her peers at the Daily Wire aren't. She's a mom. She's speaking directly to other moms, which is something that her male counterparts like Ben Shapiro can't replicate. That said, she has a really harsh tone and a conspiratorial mindset that I'm not sure would appeal to women in the middle.
David Remnick: Clare, thanks so much for your terrific reporting on this. Good talking to you.
Clare Malone: Good talking to you, David.
David Remnick: You can find Clare Malone's article, The Gospel of Candace Owens at NewYorker.com.
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