LANDRITH: The Troubling Rise Of The ‘Khanservatives’

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George Landrith Contributor
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Once a quiet backwater of bipartisan economic policy, antitrust has become a highly weaponized political issue under the Biden administration.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan and her progressive backers are trying to use antitrust enforcement to push the Biden administration’s agenda. Under Khan, press interviews on “The Daily Show have become a part of the agency’s regular schedule to promote actions like banning noncompete agreements, and Senate Democrats are exerting their influence over the agency to advance investigations of oil and gas mergers, which Democrats have said would allow companies to “thwart climate legislation.” 

In an alarming twist, a new crop of populist Republicans is helping push Khan and the Biden administration’s agenda. These “Khanservative” GOP lawmakers — including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz — are supporting outlandish progressive regulatory views. Their goal is to stop censorship of conservative voices on tech platforms, but in reality, they are enabling it further. By empowering the reach of the federal government, Khanservatives are increasing the ability of the Biden administration to silence voices with which it disagrees.

In recent weeks, a number of press reports have highlighted examples of Republican politicians expressing support for Biden’s FTC chair. Conservative commentary writer Gage Klipper even suggested Republicans should “mobilize the same political force to their own ends.” Klipper further recommended that a future Trump administration “expand [Khan’s] approach to more explicitly right-wing aims,” including putting every “company that champions Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion … under the antitrust microscope.”  

Republicans need to understand the risks of this approach. If the last four years have taught us anything, it’s that the federal government and unelected bureaucrats cannot be trusted to advance conservative goals. 

The government workforce is predominantly populated by progressives, not conservatives. Even under a Republican administration, giving more power to the federal government is unlikely to advance conservative priorities. Whatever legitimate concerns one may have about corporate DEI efforts, they are not a competition problem. Expanding antitrust enforcement to address such concerns opens the door for government agencies to pursue other non-competition goals, like dictating what speech is allowed on social media platforms. 

The current FTC’s approach is a far cry from the consumer welfare standard defined by former Solicitor General Robert Bork, which has guided antitrust enforcement for the last forty years. Some Republicans have seen Khan and the Biden administration’s actions for what they are — an attempt to grow the federal government’s power and silence their opposition. House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan has helped expose the FTC’s actions against Twitter as an attack on the First Amendment. He has also been a leading voice in outing the collusion between Democrats and Big Tech to remove speech that the left doesn’t like. 

We need more Republican lawmakers to follow Jordan’s approach, enforcing antitrust practices that stay true to the consumer welfare standard and standing up against Big Government. Democrats are banking on the expanded authority of regulatory agencies to silence us. They have been growing these agencies’ powers since day one. 

Under the guise of antitrust enforcement, President Biden signed an Executive Order in 2021 to establish a “whole-of-government effort to promote competition in the American economy” by launching 72 initiatives by more than a dozen federal agencies. In March, President Biden announced a new Strike Force on Unfair and Illegal Pricing co-chaired by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). And, following the trend, the FTC asked Congress in May for an additional $105 million in funding, a nearly 35 percent increase. 

More blatantly, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a Disinformation Governance Board in 2022, a de-facto “Ministry of Truth,” which was paused just three weeks after its announcement due to widespread concerns about its impact on free speech. 

The Biden administration is now using the same playbook to try to tip the election in its favor. Just look at the Department of Justice’s case against former President Donald Trump. The DOJ is attempting to rewrite the legal process and expedite a conviction for President Trump and a win for President Biden. 

This is a warning to all Republicans – regulatory agencies like the FTC and the DOJ don’t need more power. Supporting the left’s expanded antitrust authority is a trap. Embracing such means will ultimately benefit progressive political aims and silence conservative voices. Instead, Republicans must stand firm in their support of antitrust enforcement grounded in sound economics and law.

George Landrith is president of the Frontiers of Freedom Institute.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.