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Peter Thiel, the Proper’s Would-Be Kingmaker

By , in Politics , at February 14, 2022

The wine flowed. Donald Trump Jr. mingled with the visitors. And Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire and host of the occasion, had a message for the well-heeled crowd: It was time to wash home.

The fund-raiser at Mr. Thiel’s Miami Seaside compound final month was for a conservative candidate difficult Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming for a spot on the poll in November’s midterm elections. Ms. Cheney, one in every of a number of Republicans who had voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump on expenses of inciting the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, was the face of “the traitorous 10,” Mr. Thiel mentioned, in accordance with two folks with data of the occasion, who weren’t licensed to talk publicly. All of them had to get replaced, he declared, by conservatives loyal to the previous president.

Mr. Thiel, who turned identified in 2016 as one of the biggest donors to Mr. Trump’s presidential marketing campaign, has re-emerged as a key financier of the Make America Nice Once more motion. After sitting out the 2020 presidential race, the enterprise capitalist this yr is backing 16 Senate and Home candidates, lots of whom have embraced the lie that Mr. Trump gained the election.

To get these candidates into workplace, Mr. Thiel has given greater than $20.four million. That primarily places him and Kenneth Griffin, the chief government of the hedge fund Citadel, in a tie as the biggest particular person donors to Republican politics this election cycle, in accordance with the nonpartisan analysis group OpenSecrets.

What units Mr. Thiel’s spending aside, although, is its give attention to hard-right candidates who visitors within the conspiracy theories espoused by Mr. Trump and who solid themselves as rebels decided to overthrow the Republican institution and even the broader American political order. These campaigns have raised tens of millions in small-dollar donations, however Mr. Thiel’s wealth may speed up the shift of views as soon as thought of fringe to the mainstream — whereas making himself a brand new energy dealer on the suitable.

“When you might have a funder who’s actively elevating candidates who’re denying the legitimacy of elections, that may be a direct assault on the inspiration of democracy,” mentioned Lee Drutman, a senior fellow on the left-leaning group New America, who research marketing campaign finance and hyperpartisanship.

The candidates Mr. Thiel has funded provide a window into his ideology. Whereas the investor has been one thing of a cipher, he’s at present pushed by a worldview that the institution and globalization have failed, that present immigration coverage pillages the center class and that the nation should dismantle federal establishments.

Mr. Thiel has began articulating his pondering publicly, just lately headlining at the least six conservative and libertarian gatherings the place he criticized the Chinese language Communist Social gathering and massive tech corporations and questioned local weather science. He has taken subject with what he calls the “excessive dogmatism” inside institution establishments, which he mentioned had despatched the nation backward.

At an October dinner at Stanford College for the Federalist Society, he spoke in regards to the “deranged society” that “a very deranged authorities” had created, in accordance with a recording of the occasion obtained by The New York Instances. The USA was on the verge of a momentous correction, he mentioned.

“My considerably apocalyptic, considerably hopeful thought is that we’re lastly at some extent the place issues are breaking,” Mr. Thiel mentioned.

Mr. Thiel, 54, has not publicly mentioned what he believes in regards to the 2020 election. However in Mr. Trump, he sees a vessel to push by means of his ideological objectives, three folks near the investor mentioned. The 2 males met just lately in New York and on the former president’s Mar-a-Lago membership in Palm Seaside, Fla. Mr. Thiel additionally funded an app firm run by John McEntee, one in every of Mr. Trump’s closest aides, two folks with data of the deal mentioned.

Not like conventional Republican donors who’ve targeted on their social gathering’s profitable management of Congress and the White Home, Mr. Thiel has set his sights on reshaping the Republican agenda together with his model of anti-establishment contrarianism, mentioned Stephen Okay. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist.

“I don’t assume it’s nearly flipping the Senate,” mentioned Mr. Bannon, who has identified Mr. Thiel since 2016. “I feel Peter desires to vary the course of the nation.”

Mr. Thiel’s giving is predicted to make up only a small fraction of the tons of of tens of millions of {dollars} which are prone to circulation by means of campaigns this cycle. However the quantities he’s pouring into particular person races and the early nature of his major donations have put him on the radar of Republican hopefuls.

Up to now, many courted the billionaire Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson, the late on line casino magnate. This yr, they’ve clamored for invites to Mr. Thiel’s Los Angeles and Miami Seaside properties, or debated tips on how to at the least get on the cellphone with him, political strategists mentioned.

Mr. Thiel personally vets the candidates he offers to, mentioned three Republican strategists, who declined to be named for worry of retaliation. Along with Harriet Hageman, the challenger to Ms. Cheney, he’s backing Joe Kent and Loren Culp, each of whom are operating in opposition to Home Republicans in Washington State who voted to question Mr. Trump. He additionally gave to a political motion committee related to Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who is just not up for re-election this yr.


The Republican politicians Peter Thiel is backing

Mr. Thiel has given greater than $20.four million to help 16 Senate and Home candidates for the midterm elections. He additionally has donated to a PAC supporting Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who isn’t up for re-election this yr.

Incumbent

Senate

Ted Budd

N.C.

Ted Cruz

Texas

Blake Masters

Ariz.

Eric Schmitt

Mo.

J.D. Vance

Ohio

Home

Tom Cole

Okla.

Loren Culp

Wash.

Mario Díaz-Balart

Fla.

Mike Gallagher

Wis.

Harriet Hageman

Wyo.

Brian Harrison

Texas

Joe Kent

Wash.

Kevin McCarthy

Calif.

Michael McCaul

Texas

Chris Stewart

Utah

Michael Waltz

Fla.

Patrick Witt

Ga.


By The New York Instances

Mr. Thiel has attracted probably the most consideration for 2 $10 million donations to the Senate candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. Like Mr. Thiel, the lads are tech traders with pedigrees from elite universities who solid themselves as antagonists to the institution. They’ve additionally labored for the billionaire and been financially depending on him. Mr. Masters, the chief working officer of Thiel Capital, the investor’s household workplace, has promised to go away that job earlier than Arizona’s August major.

Mr. Thiel, who declined to remark for this text, introduced final week that he would leave the board of Meta, the mum or dad firm of Fb, which conservatives have accused of censorship. One purpose for the change: He plans to focus extra on politics.

A Moneyman’s Evolution

Born in West Germany and raised in South Africa and the San Francisco Bay Space, Mr. Thiel confirmed his provocative facet at Stanford within the late 1980s. Classmates recalled Mr. Thiel, who studied philosophy and legislation, describing South Africa’s apartheid as a sound financial system. (A spokesman for Mr. Thiel has denied that he supported apartheid.)

Mr. Thiel additionally helped discovered The Stanford Review, a conservative campus paper that sought to supply “different views” to what he deemed left-wing orthodoxy.

In 1995, he co-wrote a e book, “The Range Delusion,” arguing that “the intense give attention to racism” had brought about larger societal pressure and acrimony. Rape, he and his co-author, David Sacks, wrote, generally included “seductions which are later regretted.” (Mr. Thiel has apologized for the e book.)

In 1998, Mr. Thiel helped create what would develop into the digital funds firm PayPal. He turned Fb’s first outdoors investor in 2004 and established the enterprise capital agency Founders Fund a yr later. Forbes places his fortune at $2.6 billion.

As a enterprise capitalist, Mr. Thiel branded himself as a contrarian. He revealed philosophical essays, usually darkish musings on politics, expertise, Christianity and globalization.

In one 2009 piece, Mr. Thiel, who referred to as himself a libertarian, wrote that he had come to “now not consider that freedom and democracy are suitable,” arguing that American politics would at all times be hostile to free-market beliefs, and that politics was about interfering with different folks’s lives with out their consent. Since then, he has hosted and attended occasions with white nationalists and alt-right figures.

His political giving developed with these views. He donated lavishly to Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns earlier than turning to candidates who had been extra excessive than the Republican institution.

In 2013, Curtis Yarvin, an entrepreneur who has voiced racist beliefs and mentioned democracy was a damaging system of presidency, emailed Mr. Thiel. Mr. Yarvin wrote that Mr. Cruz, then a newly elected senator, “must purge each single traitor” from the Republican Social gathering. Within the e-mail, which The Instances obtained, Mr. Yarvin argued that it didn’t matter if these candidates misplaced normal elections or price the social gathering management in Congress.

Mr. Thiel, who had donated to Mr. Cruz’s 2012 marketing campaign, replied, “It’s comparatively protected to help Cruz (for me) as a result of he threatens the Republican institution.”

Mr. Thiel used his cash to fund different causes. In 2016, he was revealed as the secret funder of a lawsuit that focused Gawker Media, which had reported he was homosexual. Gawker declared chapter, partly from the prices of combating the lawsuit.

Mr. Thiel speaking at the Republican National Convention in 2016.
Doug Mills/The New York Instances

In July 2016, Mr. Thiel appeared on the Republican Nationwide Conference to proclaim that he was proud to be a gay Republican supporting Mr. Trump. He later donated $1.25 million to the candidate.

After Mr. Trump gained, Mr. Thiel was named to the president-elect’s government transition staff. At a meeting with tech leaders at Trump Tower in Manhattan in December 2016, Mr. Trump advised Mr. Thiel, “You’re a really particular man.”

A month later, Mr. Thiel, a naturalized American, was revealed to have additionally obtained citizenship in New Zealand. That prompted a furor, particularly after Mr. Trump had urged folks to pledge “whole allegiance to america.”

Throughout Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Thiel became frustrated with the administration. “There are all these ways in which issues have fallen quick,” he told The Times in 2018.

In 2020, he stayed on the sidelines. His solely notable federal election donation was to Kris Kobach, a Trump ally and former secretary of state of Kansas identified for his hard-line views on immigration. (Mr. Kobach misplaced his major bid for the Senate.)

Mr. Thiel’s private priorities additionally modified. In 2016, he introduced that he was moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The subsequent yr, he married a longtime boyfriend, Matt Danzeisen; they’ve two kids.

Mr. Thiel lowered his enterprise commitments and began pondering leaving Meta’s board, which he had joined in 2005, two of the folks with data of his pondering mentioned. At an October occasion held by a conservative tech group in Miami, he alluded to his frustration with Fb, which was more and more eradicating sure sorts of speech and had barred Mr. Trump.

“I’ll take QAnon and Pizzagate conspiracy theories any day over a Ministry of Reality,” he mentioned.

A Meta spokeswoman mentioned the corporate valued and had benefited from Mr. Thiel’s contributions.

Mr. Thiel reappeared in political circles. In August, he purchased a $13 million mansion in Washington from Wilbur Ross, Mr. Trump’s commerce secretary. In October, he spoke on the occasion for the Federalist Society at Stanford and on the Nationwide Conservatism Convention.

He additionally rebuilt his relationship with Mr. Trump. For the reason that 2020 election, they’ve met at the least 3 times in New York and at Mar-a-Lago, generally with Mr. Masters or Mr. Vance. And Mr. Thiel invested in Mr. McEntee’s firm, which is constructing a courting app for conservatives referred to as the RightStuff.

Mr. McEntee declined to reply questions on his app and mentioned Mr. Thiel was “an incredible man.” Mr. Trump’s representatives didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Giving to Win

Mr. Thiel’s political giving ramped up final spring together with his $10 million checks to PACs supporting Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters. The sums had been his greatest and the biggest ever one-time contributions to a PAC backing a single candidate, in accordance with OpenSecrets.

Like Mr. Trump in 2016, Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters lack expertise in politics. Mr. Vance, the enterprise capitalist who wrote the best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” met Mr. Thiel a decade in the past when the billionaire delivered a lecture at Yale Legislation Faculty, the place Mr. Vance was a scholar.

Kevin Hagen for The New York Instances

Mr. Vance later labored at Mithril Capital, one in every of Mr. Thiel’s funding funds, earlier than opening his personal fund in Ohio, Narya Capital, through which Mr. Thiel is an investor. Mr. Vance took residence greater than $400,000 in wage from Narya in 2020 and the primary half of 2021, in accordance with monetary disclosures.

Mr. Masters met Mr. Thiel when he was a Stanford legislation scholar in 2012 and the investor taught a category on start-ups. The 2 later co-wrote a best-selling enterprise e book, “Zero to One.” In 2020, Mr. Masters reported greater than $1.1 million in wage from Thiel Capital and e book royalties.

Mr. Vance, Mr. Masters and their campaigns didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Each candidates have repeated the Trumpian lie of election fraud, with Mr. Masters stating in a November campaign ad, “I feel Trump gained in 2020.” They’ve additionally made Mr. Thiel a promoting level of their campaigns.

In November, Mr. Vance wrote on Twitter that anybody who donated $10,800 to his marketing campaign may attend a small group dinner with him and Mr. Thiel. Mr. Masters supplied the identical alternative for a meal with Mr. Thiel and raised $550,000 by promoting nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, of “Zero to One” digital artwork that might give holders “entry to events with me and Peter.”

Mr. Thiel’s backing has prompted different tech traders to help the 2 candidates. Mr. Sacks, the co-author of “The Range Delusion” and now an investor, hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Vance. Joe Lonsdale, a enterprise capitalist, held one for Mr. Masters.

Mr. Thiel has additionally made smaller donations to Trump loyalists, together with in September to Ms. Hageman and Patrick Witt, a former Trump administration official operating for a Home seat in Georgia.

His backing might not be sufficient. In Ohio, Mr. Vance trails in polling, partly hampered by a earlier denunciation of Mr. Trump. In Arizona, Mr. Masters is competing in a crowded subject.

Nonetheless, some Republicans fear that Mr. Thiel is arming candidates who’re too excessive with monetary firepower, fueling what might be politically detrimental major races.

“You need to nominate candidates who can win within the fall and never simply injury everybody on the way in which,” mentioned Scott Reed, a longtime Republican strategist.

However Mr. Thiel seems able to press ahead. In a 20-minute speech on the Nationwide Conservatism Convention in October, he mentioned nationalism was “a corrective” to the “brain-dead, one-world state” of globalism. He additionally blasted the Biden administration.

“We now have the zombie retreads simply busy rearranging the deck chairs,” he mentioned. “We’d like dissident voices greater than ever.”

Cade Metz contributed reporting. Rachel Shorey and Kitty Bennett contributed analysis.

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