Monday, 28 Nov 2022

Peter Thiels midterm bet: the billionaire seeking to disrupt Americas democracy

Peter Thiels midterm bet: the billionaire seeking to disrupt Americas democracy


Peter Thiels midterm bet: the billionaire seeking to disrupt Americas democracy

Peter Thiel is far from the first billionaire who has wielded his fortune to try to influence the course of American politics. But in an election year when democracy itself is said to be on the ballot, he stands out for assailing a longstanding governing system that he has described as "deranged" and in urgent need of "course correction".

The German-born investor and tech entrepreneur, a Silicon Valley "disrupter" who helped found PayPal alongside Elon Musk and made his fortune as one of the earliest investors in Facebook, has catapulted himself into the top ranks of the mega-donor class by pouring close to $30m into this year's midterm elections.

He's not merely favoring one party over another, but is supporting candidates who deny the legitimacy of Joe Biden's election as president and have, in their different ways, called for the pillars of the American establishment to be toppled entirely.

Thiel's priorities this midterm cycle have partly aligned with those of Donald Trump, with whom he has had an on-again, off-again relationship since writing him a $1.25m check during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Thiel, like Trump, has made it his business to end the careers of what he calls "the traitorous 10", Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump in the wake of the January 6 insurrection. Four of these members opted not to run for re-election at all, and four more, including Liz Cheney, the vice-chair of the House committee investigating January 6, went down in the primaries.

But there are also signs that Thiel is thinking around and beyond the former president. The lion's share of his largesse - $28m and counting - has been directed towards two business proteges who, with his help, have established themselves as gadfly rightwing darlings: JD Vance, the best-selling author of the blue-collar memoir Hillbilly Elegy, who is running for Senate in Ohio, and Blake Masters, a self-styled "anti-progressive" and anti-globalist who is running for Senate in Arizona.

Over the past decade, ever since the supreme court dramatically loosened the rules of political campaign giving in its Citizens United decision, Thiel has placed sizable bets on candidates who are not only conservative but have sought to challenge longstanding institutional traditions and break the Republican party's own norms: Senator Ted Cruz in Texas and Senator Josh Hawley in Missouri as well as Trump himself.

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