Thiel had initially been reluctant to spend more on Masters, the Thiel Capital COO, beyond an initial $15 million donation to the Saving Arizona PAC. Instead, he wanted Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to foot the bill. After all, did McConnell want to win the Senate or not? But by playing hard on funding, McConnell got Thiel to devote more funds to his pet political project, while reserving the Senate Leadership Fund associated with McConnell for other close races.
McConnell’s bet paid off. Now is the time to see if Thiel will also pay off.
There’s a lot at stake, as the Senate races in Arizona and Ohio will determine Thiel’s role in shaping the future of the Republican Party. Thiel has donated to more than a dozen congressional campaigns this midterm cycle. But unlike the more established politicians of this cohort, Vance and Masters are local, one-time employees of the man himself — uncompromising Thielian.
If Masters and Vance win, so does Thiel’s vision for the GOP. It’s a vision to go beyond the country club, the NAFTA Republicans; it’s a more buttoned-up, competent version of Trumpism, capable of translating the former president’s anti-establishment, anti-technocratic rhetoric into a real social and economic agenda.
As things stand, Vance holds a solid lead in Ohio. FiveThirtyEight’s election models give Vance about a 71% chance of winning the race, although his opponent Tim Ryan outscored him nearly 11 to 1. At a recent GOP fundraising event, Thiel reportedly told the guests that Vance didn’t need more funding because the Ohio race was “done in my head”.
But in Arizona, Masters is still catching up with incumbent Senator Mark Kelly. Those same FiveThirtyEight patterns give Kelly an 80% chance of winning. And before Election Day, Kelly will have a huge amount of money to spend on TV commercials since he edged Masters nearly 8-1, which is even Thiel’s latest $5 million pledge.
Masters dismissed polls that showed Kelly a comfortable lead. He’s right to point out that this race is very much up for grabs – let’s not forget those 2016 election counters. Either way, Masters undeniably has a tougher road ahead than Vance.
Thiel backs Masters and Vance in part because he thinks Democrats have hitched their wagon to Big Tech, to the detriment of America’s middle class. In his keynote address to this year’s National Conservatism conference, Thiel took the established theory of the resource curse of the economy and reconfigured it as the “technological curse,” which he defines as when a “strong tech industry is associated with social dysfunction rather than progress”. In both cases, the general idea is that an overabundance of wealth allows corrupt and incompetent governments to stay in power, while the economy holds together with a modicum of ingenuity.
Thiel posits that technological wealth enables distorted political dynamics, which in turn has led to the housing crisis and a broader hollowing out of the middle class. And though he identifies “reveilism” as the religion of our resource-rich state, Thiel still says it shouldn’t be confused with “the main thing going on.”
As a result, Thiel tells us, Democrats have no choice but to hitch their tech wagon and “pretend they can do [the] California [model] work for the country as a whole. Alternatives such as the “false blue-collar” model or the redistributionist “globalist finance model” work even worse than California, he argues.
So where does that leave Republicans? Thiel criticizes the party as it currently stands for being too nihilistic – defining itself only in opposition to revivalism and the larger California model. Rather, he wants the party to return to “widespread growth that isn’t inflationary, cancerous, or some sort of narrow real estate racket.”
But that’s about where the prescription ends. We can extrapolate from other statements by Thiel that he wants more investment in non-software technology (“atoms, not bits”), and of course he will always be in favor of less regulation. But other than that, Thiel’s vision seems more defined by what it is not rather than what it is. is. Ironically, therefore, he suffers from the same ideological nihilism that he identifies within the mainstream GOP.
Importantly, Thiel doesn’t want Republicans to kill the goose: A tech executive reading this might think that Peter Thiel wants nothing more than to wrest power from the state. to Democrats and use it to destroy tech companies, but that’s only the right half: He wants state power, but not as a means to destroy technology.
“It’s like Saudi Aramco isn’t the main problem in Saudi Arabia – it’s the most functional institution,” Thiel explained to suggest that we should blame political dysfunction on the superstructure surrounding Apple and Google, and not on the companies themselves. Thiel therefore identifies technology as fundamental to the problem, but does not want to destroy it as part of the solution.