Saturday, May 27

J.D. Vance’s Victory in Ohio Is a Huge Win for Peter Thiel’s Political Movement

Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s endeavor to become the kingmaker of the so-called New Right had a big electoral victory Tuesday night, when J.D. Vance, a 37-year-old Ivy League academic turned populist firebrand, won the GOP primary in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race. Thiel, the billionaire cofounder of PayPal who pumped $15 million into a super PAC backing Vance, has said he’s devoting his political activism, and donations, toward politicians who fit his MAGA-loving, Big Tech–libertarian mold. If Vance wins the general election (a likely outcome, as Donald Trump won Ohio comfortably in 2016 and 2020), he will give more political capital to the New Right, a movement made up of young nationalists with a disdain for a dystopian world created by the Big Tech, free trade, and hawkish foreign policies that defined the pre-Trump Republican Party. It’s a movement not without idiosyncrasies (Thiel himself helped fuel Silicon Valley’s rise to power as an early investor in Facebook and longtime member of Meta’s board, which he decided to step down from earlier this year) but one that a cadre of young politicians seems to be heeding; perhaps best captured in Congress by Josh Hawley, the 42-year-old Missouri Republican who, as it turns out, has also been a recipient of Thiel’s philanthropy and is the only sitting senator to have endorsed Vance.

Vance proved to be a big risk for Thiel, but one that paid off. Even with Thiel’s financial backing and a Tucker Carlson endorsement, Vance’s campaign was stuck in second gear as recently as early April. But his polling numbers quickly spiked after he received a coveted Trump endorsement a little less than three weeks ago. Donald Trump Jr. also joined Vance on the campaign trail. In the end, Vance became the outsider candidate; Josh Mandel, Vance’s biggest rival, won the support of senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee—and the backing of the traditional conservative group Club for Growth. Vance’s ability to eke out a win shows not only the power Trump’s endorsement still has in the party, but also the rise of this new post-Trump ideology that Vance and his backers appear to be building.

On his face, Vance may sound like a strange beneficiary of support from a Trump-loving magnate like Thiel. Vance, a Yale graduate who grew up in the Rust Belt, became a darling of liberal commentators in the early years of Trump’s presidency, thanks to his best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, which sought to understand the ideology of Trump supporters. (As my colleague Eric Lutz reported, Vance once labeled himself a “Never Trump guy” and worried the former president could be “America’s Hitler.”) But Vance and Thiel have history; Vance worked for Thiel’s venture capital firm, and more recently the tech billionaire backed Vance’s venture capital firm in 2020. And in Vance’s Thiel-fueled rebrand as a Trump-loving right-winger, he has thrown away his cosmopolitan credentials in favor of a beard, red meat politics, and endorsements from representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz.

The New Right’s next test is in Arizona, where another Thiel protégé, Blake Masters, is running in the GOP Senate primary. Masters, a 35-year-old who previously served as COO of Thiel’s venture capital firm and has received $10 million from the billionaire via a PAC, is currently polling in third place, but the primary is still months away, with a recent survey showing that 31% of voters remain undecided. He, too, has received Hawley’s endorsement. And Trump has already shown interest in Masters. Last weekend the former president thanked the candidate for supporting his voter-fraud conspiracy theories while giving a remote address at an “election integrity event” that Masters organized in Chandler, Arizona. If he finds similar success, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to expect the rise of a New Right Caucus in Congress.

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