The ad for the Right Stuff dating app is like something out of the 1990s’ purity wars, right down to its spokesmodel, Ryann McEnany, sister of Trump’s former press secretary, who looks like she came to the shoot straight from delivering the “True Love Waits” keynote presentation at a local high school.
She’s blue-eyed, blonde-haired, and wholesomely beautiful; her jeans are white, tight, and pre-distressed. Her ivory leather moto jacket is unzipped just enough to reveal the cross dangling around her neck, but nothing else—not even when she leans forward, with a sweet, slightly conspiratorial smile. She knows how you’ve suffered. She’s here to help.
“We’re sorry that you’ve had to endure years of bad dates and wasted time with people that don’t see the world our way,” she says. “The right way.”
The Right Stuff, which launched last month, is a new dating app for single conservatives. “Other dating apps have gone woke,” the Web site proclaims. “We bring people together with shared values and similar passions.”
So far it has succeeded in uniting at least one group, if not its target audience: immediately after the app was announced, members of the political left came together over their shared passion for mocking it. The overall response to the introductory video on Twitter and YouTube was howling derision at the premise, design, and imagined user base: “Made specifically for you, an incel,” reads one representative reply, while another crows, “Find cousins you never knew you had!”
As entertaining as some might find it to imagine the Right Stuff as a sordid hotbed of incest and incels, the truth is more banal. Apart from its explicitly political formulation and attendant marketing gimmicks—lots of jokes about pronouns, a premium subscription model that male users have to pay for but women get for free—there’s nothing especially new or novel about it.
It’s more like Tinder than it is unlike Tinder, just another place to fill out a profile and swipe in search of connection. The fact that it targets a small, invitation-only base of avowedly conservative singles is not a bad thing, but nor is it likely to immunize the Right Stuff users from the disappointments and pratfalls of trying to match with someone online.
John McEntee, one of the app’s three founders, says it was created in response to demand from friends, most of them women, who wanted to date in an environment where the question of political compatibility was resolved in advance. Per McEntee, this is already an informal but prevalent practice among liberals on apps such as Bumble, where “every other [profile] is like, ‘If you like Trump, swipe left.’”
A Crowded Field
Obviously, the Right Stuff is one way to handle our current state of cultural polarization. At a moment when cross–political pairings have replaced inter-racial relationships as the new taboo (in a 2020 YouGov/Economist poll, 38 percent of party-affiliated respondents said they’d be at least somewhat upset if their child married someone from the opposite party), allowing people to narrow their dating pool by political affiliation will no doubt be welcomed by some.
Additionally, some dating apps have become increasingly, and sometimes overtly, woke in a way that conservatives might reasonably construe as meant to alienate them. In June 2020, Bumble introduced a new loading screen that required users to tap “I agree” on a statement affirming the company’s commitment to Black Lives Matter before they could use the app. Tinder now offers more than four dozen different options for selecting one’s gender identity, including agender, bigender, gender fluid, gender questioning, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, and two-spirit.
And although Republicans are more willing to date Democrats than vice versa (78 percent versus 57 percent, according to a 2020 Pew poll; insert your favorite “so much for the tolerant left” joke here), at least one creator of the Right Stuff is not among them. “There are no circumstances where I would marry a liberal,” McEntee says. “Maybe if it was the 90s.”
Still, one gets the sense that the purpose of the Right Stuff is less about finding the right (or Right) person than it is about excluding the wrong ones. Twice, McEntee mentions that filtering out liberals in advance means users won’t have to worry about “getting in fights” with prospective matches—a problem which, yes, could be solved by excluding liberals from your dating pool, but which could also surely be solved by choosing not to get into fights with people you’ve only just met.
In fact, for a venture that is so proudly anti-woke, the Right Stuff is identity-driven in a way that is remarkably reminiscent of some of the sillier excesses of the progressive left. The intended user of the app is not just a conservative but a conservative who feels outnumbered, even persecuted, by the left-wingers around him.
To join the app is to identify as a conservative, but McEntee seems to have no interest in enforcing, or even encouraging, actual adherence to conservative values. When I ask about the possibility of people using the app to engage in the types of behaviors that conservatives ostensibly frown upon—casual sex with multiple partners, married people seeking side pieces, and the like—he just laughs.
“I don’t think there will be a huge market for that,” he says, after I ask about the Right Stuff becoming a hub for cheaters in search of extramarital affairs. “But all conservatives are welcome. If you’re right-wing, you should be on this app. It’s where all the right-wing people will be.”
Time will tell if McEntee is correct on that front, although it’s worth noting that, on top of the difficulties of launching a new venture in a crowded space, the Right Stuff faces other challenges, such as its branding, which Tablet’s Katherine Dee described as “the intersection of ‘free template’ and ‘no creative directors were willing to work with us.’”
But, in the meantime, its existence serves to highlight the extent to which political identity is now fully divorced from principles, or policy preferences, or party platforms. It doesn’t matter what you believe; it only matters what team you’re on, as largely determined by which team you’re rooting against. The Right Stuff may or may not be a good place to get a date or find a spouse—but that’s not why you join. You join because here, at last, is an app that’s just for people like you. You can tell by the sign on the door that says, NO LIBS ALLOWED.
Kat Rosenfield is the author of several books, including No One Will Miss Her