Tech Tycoon Peter Thiel Shies From Trump Re-Election Campaign


JULY 2, 2020

President Trump’s most prominent Silicon Valley supporter, billionaire Peter Thiel, has told friends and associates that he plans to sit out this year’s presidential campaign because he thinks re-election is increasingly a long shot, people familiar with the matter say.

Mr. Thiel, a venture capitalist and co-founder of PayPal Holdings Inc., spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2016, where he criticized the state of the economy and described Mr. Trump as a man set to rebuild America. One of the few tech leaders to publicly back Mr. Trump that year, he also donated $1.25 million to the Trump campaign and related groups.

In recent weeks, however, in private conversations from his oceanfront estate in Hawaii, Mr. Thiel has said he soured on the president’s prospects, the people said. Mr. Thiel said he believes it is likely that the economy will be mired in deep recession in November, with double-digit unemployment, and that any sitting president would be at a stark disadvantage to a challenger.

Mr. Thiel doesn’t currently plan to speak at this year’s Republican convention, scheduled for Aug. 24-27, one of the people said. Though he may eventually still vote for Mr. Trump, Mr. Thiel hasn’t donated any money to Mr. Trump this year and currently doesn’t plan to, the people said.

One person who speaks to Mr. Thiel about politics says he described Mr. Trump’s campaign as the “S.S. Minnow,” a reference to the ship that ran aground on the television series “Gilligan’s Island.”

Mr. Thiel didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Thiel didn’t comment.

Mr. Thiel has been and remains a supporter of the president, said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh.

Despite his lack of enthusiasm, Mr. Thiel also views the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden as an uninspired choice aligned too closely with traditional liberal beliefs, the people said. Mr. Thiel is unlikely to publicly break with Mr. Trump, as he sees no advantage to doing so, they said.

A self-described Libertarian, Mr. Thiel publicly reveled in his iconoclast role as a Trump booster in 2016. He told friends after Mr. Trump’s victory that he was nearly as delighted to have his own prediction proven right as he was to see any of Mr. Trump’s specific policies enacted.

Mr. Thiel, 52 years old, famously moved to Los Angeles in the years following, turned off by what he viewed as the comparatively intolerant, left-leaning politics of the San Francisco Bay Area. He donated to Mr. Trump again around the midterm elections in 2018, and as recently as late last year, he enjoyed close ties to the White House; in one instance, he attended a private dinner with the president and Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg. Mr. Thiel was an early investor in Facebook and serves on its board.

Mr. Thiel’s funding for the Trump campaign in 2016 included a donation that October after a video surfaced in which the candidate bragged of groping women, when some Trump supporters were wavering. Mr. Thiel said the remarks were in poor taste, but not disqualifying. Though he still has time to make a late move again, this year Mr. Thiel instead is likely to spend millions of dollars on races in the House and Senate, in an effort to keep at least one branch of government in Republican hands, people familiar with the matter said.

“His biggest concern is that if people vote down the ticket, everything flips in one direction,” said one person familiar with Mr. Thiel’s plans.

The Daily Beast earlier reported that Mr. Thiel hadn’t donated to Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign.

Some of the investor’s disillusion with Mr. Trump can be traced back to before the coronavirus outbreak was national news. Mr. Thiel was early to note the scientific alarm as the virus leapt across China, Italy and the U.S., and grew frustrated with the pace of Mr. Trump’s response, the people familiar said. Mr. Thiel’s data company, Palantir Technologies Inc., recalled staff from abroad in mid-February, ahead of most other American companies.

While Mr. Thiel is willing to cut Mr. Trump some slack over a once-a-century pandemic, Mr. Thiel is withering in his assessment of the president’s reelection campaign, the people familiar say. Mr. Thiel doesn’t believe the campaign has settled on a winning argument to convince the electorate to stay the course.

Mr. Thiel separately continues to fund his own political-action committee, Free Forever, which states it is committed to limiting immigration, ending wars and adding jobs for working-class Americans. The PAC is supporting Republican Kris Kobach’s campaign to fill the Kansas Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Roberts, who is retiring.

Courtesy/Source: The Wall Street Journal