Peter Thiel’s Startup Capital-Style Politics are a Bust

Peter Thiel made a splashy beginning to the 2022 election cycle by handing out two $10 million checks to carefully selected Senate candidates and establishing himself as the future political kingmaker for the Republican Party.

Thiel’s great experiment is at risk with only three weeks till the election, as one of his candidates is trailing in the polls and neither has been able to raise as much money as their Democratic opponents have despite Thiel’s generous contributions.

Thiel and his candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and JD Vance in Ohio have generally failed to gather support from the Republican establishment, prompting speculation about the Silicon Valley billionaire’s long-term ties with party gatekeepers like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Longtime friends and allies of the PayPal inventor and early Facebook investor believe his unconventional political giving is significantly inspired by his career as a startup entrepreneur, according to interviews with Republican political strategists. Like the industry he came from, his approach consists mostly of placing large, early and carefully considered wagers on a few campaigns.

Some of the respondents, however, had difficulty seeing the logic behind this methodology, especially in the high-stakes Senate races that will likely determine which party controls Washington for the next two years.

Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel

Because they are brilliant these [tech] individuals get paid a lot of money to believe that they are brilliant.

But I don’t think that translates as easily to politics as they expect,” said a Republican campaign consultant who, like others who know Thiel, requested anonymity in order to speak openly about the billionaire.

The consultant compared the elements necessary for a successful campaign to a “three-legged stool,” with the “excellent candidate” serving as one leg and “outside money” and “party support” rounding out the others.

Thiel’s political investment strategy has irked at least one of the billionaire’s longtime tech industry friends, who says the entrepreneur has been too “professorial” in his political endorsements. This friend defines “professorial” as someone who likes to put forward ideas but does not have clear long-term goals.

One of Thiel’s longstanding friends speculated that the billionaire’s personal relationship with the two Senate candidates was a major factor in his unusually heavy support for them.

Thiel has chosen to run two former employees: Masters was COO at the billionaire’s investment firm Thiel Capital and Vance was an associate at his venture capital firm Mithril Capital.

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