As the Republican party primaries play out across the US, the most sought after endorsement is still that of former president Donald Trump. But when it comes to the most vital part of any American campaign – money – another figure is emerging on the right of US politics who is becoming equally significant.
Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder and former CEO referred to as the “don” of the original PayPal Mafia, a group that included Elon Musk, is establishing himself as a serious power player in American rightwing politics by wielding the power of his vast fortune.
Thiel, styled as a billionaire venture capitalist and tech entrepreneur, plowed more than $10m into a super Pac backing Hillbilly Elegy author JD Vance, winner of the Republican primary for an open US Senate seat in Ohio.
In August, Thiel’s backing will be tested again after shoveling $13.5m into supporting former employee Blake Masters in the competitive Republican primary for a US Senate seat in Arizona.
In both cases, Thiel put his money – his fortune is said to be in the region of $6bn – to work behind candidates aligned with Trump’s rightwing agenda in 2022 midterm elections.
Earlier this year Thiel stepped down from the board of Meta, where he was an early investor, and a long-serving adviser to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “He wanted to avoid being a distraction for Facebook,” according to a person close to Thiel. With his resignation effective this month, the source told Forbes Thiel “thinks that the Republican Party can advance the Trump agenda and he wants to do what he can to support that”.
But there is a vacuum between the entire Trump political agenda and Trump himself. The former president is apt to pick candidates who promote his stolen election claims. Not all succeed, or are likely to. Trump’s failed backing of David Perdue as Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate looked like a personal grudge against incumbent Brian Kemp, who certified Biden’s victory in 2020.
Thiel has so far helped Trump in that cause. By some estimates, Thiel has donated $25m to 15 other 2022 candidates for the House and Senate towing the Trump election fraud line.
Max Chafkin, author of a Thiel biography The Contrarian, recently wrote that Thiel’s goal is to turn Trump’s ideology into “a disciplined political platform”.
For Thiel, endorsements of Vance and Masters follow a $300,000 donation to the campaign of far-right senator Josh Hawley, then running for Missouri attorney general in 2016. He also donated money to help elect Trump president and spoke on his behalf at the Republican National Convention.
Thiel stayed out of the 2020 presidential race, and instead donated $2.1m to a super Pac supporting Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who had proposed creating a registry of Muslim immigrants and visitors.
“Thiel is one of the conservative mega donors that has the ability to shore up candidates that might need additional support. His spending is tar…