Bradley Tusk: What a Biden administration might do to Big Tech

On this week's Source Code Podcast, Tusk talks tech politics, mobile voting and more.

Bradley Tusk

Bradley Tusk thinks no matter who wins the election, the next two years could be tough for Big Tech.

Photo: Tusk Ventures

Times like these in the tech industry are sort of Bradley Tusk's sweet spot.

There's an election looming, Big Tech CEOs are being dragged in front of Congress seemingly every other week, privacy legislation is being debated and created across the country, and regulators are looking into everything from self-driving cars to the future of telehealth. And Tusk, after a long career at the intersection of tech and politics — as an advisor to Uber, a deputy governor for Illinois, a campaign manager for Mike Bloomberg, a managing partner at Tusk Ventures and more — has a pretty good grasp on all of it.

On this week's Source Code Podcast, we caught up with Tusk to talk about what the election means for the tech industry, whether the story changes depending on who wins, and why he sees stability as the most important goal going forward. We also talked about the state of mobile voting, why Prop 22 could change the ride-sharing business across the country, and what he thought of Brian Armstrong's note about Coinbase being a "mission-focused company."

Below are excerpts from the interview, edited for length and clarity.

In your recent letter to companies and founders, you wrote that the big pro of a Joe Biden presidency was stability. That was the word you kept using over and over again. Why is stability the thing?

I think the thing that everyone would love — by the way, I think this is even true on the Republican side to some extent — is a boring presidency that's relatively calm. Not the anxiety and chaos that we have with [President] Trump every single day. I think people really want that. Look: Companies, investors, markets, they like predictability. Volatility is a problem. The question of whether Biden in a democratic Senate is better for the economy than Trump and a Republican Senate? It depends. If it were Bernie Sanders, different question, but with a moderate Democrat, then the question just becomes, can you emotionally handle four more years of this? And for most people, the answer is no.

I talk to some people who say that if Biden wins, it's going to be a lot easier for tech companies in some ways. Then I talk to others who say, no, he's going to make Sen. Elizabeth Warren the Attorney General and she's going to tear down tech. Do you have a sense one way or the other?

I think the answer is, it depends. If you're Amazon, Facebook, Google, if you're any of the really big tech companies, I think from a political and regulatory standpoint, the next four years, or at least two years of the Democratic Senate and a Biden White House, could be pretty tough. For a few reasons.

One, ideologically, Democrats have long supported things like tougher antitrust regulations, a privacy framework like what they have in Europe, potentially repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This has been on the list of policies that Democrats have wanted for a while.

But two, and I think this is much more concerning if you're Big Tech: If you're Biden, or [House Majority Leader Nancy] Pelosi, or [Sen. Chuck] Schumer, you need to give the far left stuff to keep them busy. You want to make all the big decisions, you want to handle the major initiatives, the first hundred days. You don't want to be hijacked by [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and the Green New Deal and all that stuff, which means you have to give them issues that they care about and have substance to work on, so they don't feel like they're getting blown off.

If you're Joe Biden, do you really care if Facebook is one company, or if Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook are three separate companies? No! Not in the slightest, right? Do you care if AWS and Amazon are the same or different? No! And by the way, Schumer, Pelosi and Biden, the average age is pretty close to 80 in that group. I don't think most of them know what any of this stuff is.

So I think the biggest threat to Big Tech is not even just ideology, it's that it's in the political interest of the centrist Democratic leadership to make them the sacrificial lamb to keep the far left busy.

Whoever wins, there's going to be so much to deal with: We have COVID, the economy, health care, just so many fights to fight. Is tech even going to be a priority? Are we going to get to any of this in two years, regardless of who wins?

We may not. I think it depends. Part of the way to break it up is administrative action versus legislative action, right. So if Biden is president, whoever the Attorney General is will inherit at least an existing antitrust prosecution against Google. They at the very least have to decide whether to continue that or not.

And I think there are some very strong arguments as to why they may not, because ultimately this felt like a very rushed political deal by Trump and [Attorney General William] Barr, and it may be in Trump's political interest to do something against Google before the election. But the Biden Justice Department may say "this is a much harder case to make than the one against Facebook," for example.

The other half of the battle is legislative. I don't think Schumer, Biden, Pelosi, the people really running the place, are going to spend time on these tech issues. So for AOC, Elizabeth Warren, [Sen.] Sherrod Brown, how big a priority is this? If it's the number one priority, I see Pelosi and Schumer saying, "Knock yourself out, have at it." And I don't think Biden's going to veto anything that comes from a Democratic Congress.

Even then, I don't think you can get done at the same time new antitrust regulations, a national privacy framework, and repealing Section 230. I think you have to pick one.

Which would you bet on being the one they pick?

On 230, the upside is you'd get bipartisan support, because the conservatives are convinced that Twitter and Facebook are out to get them. So if you for some reason wanted something bipartisan, 230 is a pretty good one.

And then number two would be privacy. That's probably the most impactful and important. Because yes, they could pass new regulations, but the Justice Department already has pretty significant ability to go after companies on antitrust violation grounds. So the one that will be the most meaningful will be privacy. So if the left said, "we really, really want to do this," I would imagine that's what they would pick.

The very first thing I thought of when you said you would do this interview was, "I have to ask him about the Coinbase memo." Because it has sparked this fascinating discussion about, what is a company's job in the world? And right now, that debate has never been more obvious. So what did you make of that?

So first of all, we're an investor in Coinbase. Let me disclose that.

Brian is a really, really smart guy. He's an unusual guy. I don't think a totally conventional person creates an incredible cryptocurrency trading platform. And it feels like every successful tech founder's kind of a weird person, right? What I liked about it, even though it's not where I've come out in my own business, was that it was very honest. And it was very transparent, and very candid.

It's not clear that employees shouldn't have the right to have a dissenting point of view, or to create something that may not be a safe space. So I think in some ways, the way that Coinbase handled it was very clear, and no one has any doubt as to what their obligation is as a company, which is to make money for its investors. And I respect that. And, you know, I thought what Expensify did was pretty bold, and maybe a little bolder than what Coinbase did, in a way. But again, I respected that too. And if you believe that four more years of Trump is an existential threat to democracy and the planet, I understand the feeling that you've got to act on it.

The thing I had a hard time with over Brian's memo was just trying to figure out if what he's asking for is even practical. I don't know if you can run a company outside of politics right now.

Yeah, absolutely. What Brian's trying to do may not be feasible, but I respect the attempt to provide clear, bright rules to employees, to say this is what we are and this is what we're not. Whether that succeeds, I don't know.

Though the question is this: If Biden wins, does that separation come back a little bit? Where politics is not completely the dominant force in everyone's mindset, everyone's life all the time? If Biden is some version of Sleepy Joe — and I think I would be pretty happy if he was — it's just like, let's have some peace and quiet.


The West’s drought could bring about a data center reckoning

When it comes to water use, data centers are the tech industry’s secret water hogs — and they could soon come under increased scrutiny.

Lake Mead, North America's largest artificial reservoir, has dropped to about 1,052 feet above sea level, the lowest it's been since being filled in 1937.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The West is parched, and getting more so by the day. Lake Mead — the country’s largest reservoir — is nearing “dead pool” levels, meaning it may soon be too low to flow downstream. The entirety of the Four Corners plus California is mired in megadrought.

Amid this desiccation, hundreds of the country’s data centers use vast amounts of water to hum along. Dozens cluster around major metro centers, including those with mandatory or voluntary water restrictions in place to curtail residential and agricultural use.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.

Indeed is hiring 4,000 workers despite industry layoffs

Indeed’s new CPO, Priscilla Koranteng, spoke to Protocol about her first 100 days in the role and the changing nature of HR.

"[Y]ou are serving the people. And everything that's happening around us in the world is … impacting their professional lives."

Image: Protocol

Priscilla Koranteng's plans are ambitious. Koranteng, who was appointed chief people officer of Indeed in June, has already enhanced the company’s abortion travel policies and reinforced its goal to hire 4,000 people in 2022.

She’s joined the HR tech company in a time when many other tech companies are enacting layoffs and cutbacks, but said she sees this precarious time as an opportunity for growth companies to really get ahead. Koranteng, who comes from an HR and diversity VP role at Kellogg, is working on embedding her hybrid set of expertise in her new role at Indeed.

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.


New Jersey could become an ocean energy hub

A first-in-the-nation bill would support wave and tidal energy as a way to meet the Garden State's climate goals.

Technological challenges mean wave and tidal power remain generally more expensive than their other renewable counterparts. But government support could help spur more innovation that brings down cost.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash

Move over, solar and wind. There’s a new kid on the renewable energy block: waves and tides.

Harnessing the ocean’s power is still in its early stages, but the industry is poised for a big legislative boost, with the potential for real investment down the line.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (


Watch 'Stranger Things,' play Neon White and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Here are our picks for your long weekend.

Image: Annapurna Interactive; Wizard of the Coast; Netflix

Kick off your long weekend with an extra-long two-part “Stranger Things” finale; a deep dive into the deckbuilding games like Magic: The Gathering; and Neon White, which mashes up several genres, including a dating sim.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at

Latest Stories