Peter Thiel: Donald Trump wants to make America 'normal' again
Peter Thiel, the billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist who serves as GOP nominee Donald Trump's most notable Silicon Valley supporter, doesn't take what his candidate of choice says literally.
Neither do many of his other supporters, Thiel said at a pro-Trump speech delivered Monday at the National Press Club in Washington. He said it's the media who takes the candidate at his every word, and it's the media that's missing the driving factors behind Trump's underlying support base.
"The media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally," he said. "I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally. And so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or like the wall comment ... what they hear is, 'We're going to have saner, more sensible immigration policy.'"
Thiel is a self-described libertarian who co-founded PayPal and Palantir Technologies and has invested in a cavalcade of other big-name tech startups, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, Yelp and Friendster. He had backed former GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas in the congressman's former presidential bids and was an early supporter of Republican candidate and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina during the 2016 primaries.
But the more Thiel listened to Trump's message, the more he liked what he heard. And it's not necessarily Trump's promise to make America great again that peaked Thiel's interest – it''s the idea that the outsider could make America "normal" again.
"The truth is no matter how crazy this election seems, it is less crazy than the condition of our country," Thiel said. "Trump's America is about making America a normal country. A normal country doesn't have a half-trillion-dollar deficit. A normal country doesn't fight five simultaneous undeclared wars. In a normal country, the government actually does its job."
Thiel noted that both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are "imperfect people." But he thinks support has flocked to the outspoken Republican candidate because of the "big things Trump gets right" and his representation of "a new Republican Party beyond the dogmas of Reaganism."
Free trade, Thiel said, has not benefited everybody, and the country has lost millions of manufacturing and production jobs over the last few decades as a result of more open trade policies. Trump's promises to shake up the North American Free Trade Agreement and more thoroughly restrict trade with China and Mexico are exactly what the victims of globalization want to hear.
Indeed, a recent Pew Research Center report showed 68 percent of Trump supporters feel free trade agreements have "been a bad thing for the U.S." Only 32 percent of Clinton supporters said the same.
Thiel also highlighted Trump's anti-establishment platform as highly appealing to those in the U.S. who "judge leadership to have failed" in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats. He highlighted the dot-com bubble that developed during President Bill Clinton's administration and the housing bubble that surfaced during that of President George W. Bush. Thiel said insider policies too often amount to "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic" rather than actually solving problems.
To that point, the same Pew report showed that 83 percent of Trump supporters believe that "government is almost always wasteful and inefficient." Only 31 percent of Clinton supporters concurred.
"No matter what happens in this election, what Trump represents isn't crazy, and it's not going away," Thiel said. "On the kinds of issues I talk about today – trade bubble, war bubble, globalization bubble, these various bubble policies – the insiders have been getting it wrong for a very long time."
Thiel earlier this month surfaced plans to donate $1.25 million to Trump's campaign and pro-Trump super PACs. News of the fund infusion came after a tape surfaced featuring Trump making lewd comments about women in a conversation with media personality Billy Bush. Thiel was asked about the timing, but said he hadn't pledged funds beforehand because he didn't think Trump needed his money.
"I didn't think as much even about the donation as I should have. My general perspective this year is that money didn't really matter as much," Thiel said, alluding to the fact that Trump's campaign coffers have been dwarfed by Clinton and primary opponents like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Thiel ultimately praised Trump as a candidate who "overcomes denial" and "reckons with reality." Critics of Trump, however, have hit out at the real estate mogul for having an "outdated worldview" and championing claims that "have no basis in reality."
Thiel also commented on some of the darker corners of the internet and suggested the country's libel laws should not be changed dramatically no matter what happens on Nov. 8, which is an interesting position for him to take, as Trump has suggested he'd make it easier to sue media organizations over less-than-favorable stories. Thiel also secretly helped fund a lawsuit involving former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and Gawker that involved free speech arguments.
Gawker ultimately filed for bankruptcy and shuttered its doors in the wake of its legal battle. Thiel said he "strongly believe[s] in the First Amendment" and thinks that journalists are a "privileged group in our society." But he called Gawker a "pretty flimsy business" and a "singularly sociopathic bully" that wasn't "remotely in the same ballpark" with other media organizations he'd encountered.
Despite his role in the Gawker lawsuit, his public comments stand in stark contrast to Trump's. And, as such, Thiel said, he thinks it would be "crazy" to be held responsible for Trump's more controversial comments and stances.
"I don't think the voters pull the lever in order to endorse a candidate's flaws. It's not a lack of judgment that leads Americans to vote for Trump," Thiel said. "We examine people under an electron microscope if you're running for dogcatcher in this country. And I think this is the single biggest reason why more talented people do not run for political office and do not get involved."
Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report