Authoritarian populists offer a vision of state. This ideologically fixed imaginary provides an electoral-authoritarian template for how to shape states once in power. Yet not all those called populists are populist. Some are elitist plebeians. They construct themselves as ‘the moral elite’ above which fights for ‘the people’ below against ‘the corrupt’. I argue that elitist plebeianism contains a distinct vision of government as elected guardianship. Like populists, elitist plebeians advocate extending executive power. Yet they envisage this not as the realization of the people’s will, but as the projection of accountability downwards. To them, divisions of power are acceptable as divisions of guardian labour. Rival opinions are not illegitimate, just irrelevant, but opposition is intolerable. Therefore, studies of populist authoritarianism should be revisited. Elitist plebeian visions of state may have been misread as authoritarian populist ones. I examine President Magufuli (Tanzania) as an exemplar and identify other potential elitist plebeians worldwide.