2020-05-17 19:36:30 UTC
During the last presidential campaign, Facebook board member and billionaire
Peter Thiel was among Donald Trumps most important backers, campaigning for the
future president as a proud, openly gay supporter of the Republican nominee
and even speaking at the Republican Partys 2016 convention. Four years later,
Thiel has taken on a dramatically reducedif not altogether nonexistentrole in
pushing for Trump 2020.
Though Thiel declared a year and a half ago that he supports Trumps
re-election, he so far hasn't donated large sums to any of the major Trump
campaign committees, and it is unclear to various Trump lieutenants if those
contributions are forthcoming. Top officials in the presidents political orbit
say that Thiel has been absent from 2020 discussions, with one proclaiming the
famous investor had ghosted Team Trump lately. And several people familiar
with the situation say he has privately criticized Trump in recent months and
contemplated limiting his support to other GOP or conservative-nationalist
politicians such as Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, to whom he donated the legal
maximum of $5,400 in 2017.
Thiels cold front has come as the data-mining firm that he co-founded has been
raking it in from federal contracts with the Trump administration, including a
recent deal to help build what the government hoped would be the single source
for data to understand and mitigate the effects of the coronavirus. But, as it
were, sources say the heart of Thiels disaffection with the president is
Trumps handling of the coronavirus crisis.
One person in Thiels circle tells The Daily Beast that Thiel has been
shit-talking Trump over what he views as the presidents hamfisted and botched
handling of the pandemic that has resulted in a stalled economy, massive job
losses, and a U.S. death toll approaching 90,000. Another person familiar with
Thiels recent griping said that Thiel was clearly very frustrated with the
presidents uneven public appearances, particularly the daily White House press
briefings Trump held that often ended in head-scratching pronouncements or
politically disastrous boasts.
In that regard, Thiel was hardly alone. Trumps briefings got so bad that his
own most senior advisers were urging him to cut down on them, arguing to him
directly that these hours-long briefings were tanking his poll numbers and
handing a gift to Team Biden. But for a once-declared MAGA diehard to feel this
way underscores the degree of self-inflicted damage Trump may have done.
Everybody goes into the Trump relationship woodchipper, said Trumps former
White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who worked on the Trump
presidential transition team with Thiel and who had his own falling-out with the
president. You either come out on the other side with your dignity and your
personal story intact or youre reformed as Trump compost and youre fertilizer
under his shoe. You have to make a decision and it happens to everyone.
The Daily Beast asked more than a dozen Trump campaign officials, White House
aides, and others close to the president and involved in his re-election effort
if Thiel had been quietly working with Team Trump on anything 2020 or campaign
cash-related, if there had been any meaningful contact in the past three months,
or if Thiel had come up in any planning conversations, even in passing. None
could offer any examples, and each said they werent aware of anything of that
He ghosted us, a senior 2020 Trump campaign source said bluntly. If anything
[new] has happened, I havent heard about it.
The White House and Trump campaign did not provide comment. The Daily Beast
emailed Thiel and his representative a detailed list of questions and gave them
multiple opportunities to comment. They did not respond, though in this case,
the moneyor lack thereofmay tell the story.
Though a major financial supporter of Trump and other Republican politicians in
the past, Thiel has donated nothing to the presidents re-election campaign or
the Republican National Committee since 2018, according to the most recent
available Federal Election Commission data. Hes donated to just one federal
political candidate since last year: former Kansas secretary of state and
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration hardliner and
Trump buddy. Thiel has also backed a super PAC supporting Kobachs Senate bid,
and last year chipped in $5,000 for Facebooks political action committee.
May of an election year is, historically, when Thiel begins to truly open up his
wallet to the political candidates he supports, suggesting that FEC filings
covering the second quarter of 2020, which will be filed in July, might show new
beneficiaries of his support, including Trump. Thiel began donating to Trumps
2016 campaign in July of that year. But he also continued providing financial
support to the Trump re-elect through the midterm election season, with his last
donation to the president coming on July 10, 2018.
To those who know the tech investor, his softening on his pro-Trump position
doesnt come as a shock, as he is known to be mercurial with his support for
political figures, according to two people familiar with Thiels public
relations and personal calculus.
Like so many other prominent right-leaning members of the industry and political
elite who now profess their love of Trump, Thiel bashed Trump first before
becoming a defender. During a 2014 conversation with conservative commentator
Jamie Weinstein, then of the Daily Caller, Thiel dinged Trump as sort of
symptomatic of everything that is wrong with New York City.
In August 2017, BuzzFeed News published a story on how Thiel had been telling
friends that he believed there was a 50-50 chance the Trump presidency ends in
disaster, even as he was publicly singing Trumps praises and flexing his
influence with the 45th presidents inner circle and policymakers such as the
presidents son-in-law Jared Kushner. In May 2018, CNBC reported that certain
allies of the president were sounding the alarm that Thiel might not open his
wallet for 2018 GOP congressional campaigns after being given the cold shoulder
by some White House officials.
Thiel ended up giving to the Republican Party anyway, and in November 2018, just
days before the midterm elections, Thiel was on-stage at a conference lauding
President Trump as relatively successful and promising his support for the
2020 race, according to a Bloomberg report.
While Thiel may be cold on Trump because of, among other things, the handling of
coronavirus, hes not altogether removed from the presidents orbit. NBC News
revealed that he and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dined at the White House with
Trump in October. And even before COVID-19 overtook America, Palantir, which
Thiel co-founded, had increased its contracting business with the government
astronomically, capped by a piece of an $800 million data-management contract
with the Pentagon. Since then, its drawn on its decade-long relationship with
U.S. health agencies to become one of the data-mining companies of choice for
tracking coronavirus logistics issues.
On April 22, according to federal contracting records, the firm inked a
relatively small $7.5 million deal to form the backbone of a platform for the
Department of Health and Human Services, called HHS Protect Now, for integrating
large amounts of coronavirus-relevant data from around the country.