Tomorrow is primary Election Day in 5 states: Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington. The important Democratic primaries are in Missouri (Lucas Kunce and Cori Bush), Michigan (Andy Levin and Rashida Tlaib) and Washington (Jason Call). But there are also some important Republican primaries. The hope is that Missouri GOP primary voters are as whacked out and insane as they usually are and nominate an extremist like Eric Greitens or Eric Schmitt to face Kunce, making it easier for him to flip the Senate seat.
And then there’s Arizona. Again, a Republican primary electorate dominated by insurrectionists, fascists and people twisted into pretzels by their own bigotry and grievances. They’re about to nominate Mark Finchem— a poster child for election denial as Secretary of State.
Arizona has a full slate of neo-fascist Trumpist running against conservative establishment Republicans. And it isn’t just Finchem; the fascists are all leading. The most important of the races is for the Senate nomination to face Democrat Mark Kelly. Bizarre Nazi billionaire, Peter Thiel, has all but purchased the nomination for a guy he is rumored to have once been aromatically involved with, Blake Masters (who is now married to a woman; Thiel is now married to a man and desperately trying to hide from MAGA voters that he and his husband have been adopting children). Thiel financed a SuperPAC for Masters ($15 million) and gave an undisclosed bribe to Trump to endorse him.
In its newsletter this morning, Decision Desk HQ highlighted a Thief-financed fake newspaper, in effect an elaborate 8 page ad for his boy, the Grand Canyon Times. The ads pretending to the unwary to be legitimate news:
Trump endorses Masters in U.S. Senate race (lead story)
“You get the idea,” wrote Decision Desk today. “None of those stories, by the way, have a named byline. Not every story was about Masters or the Senate race— there were several stories on sports, for example. But it was basically a Masters ad in the guise of a newspaper.” I bet every candidate wishes they had a billionaire sugar daddy.
The final Emerson poll for the Senate primary shows Masters, now that he's been endorsed by Trump, running away with it, with 40% support, an 18-point lead over his closest competitor Jim Lamon (22%), followed by Mark Brnovich at 14%, and Michael McGuire at 12%. Nine percent are undecided. When undecided voters are asked who they lean towards, Masters maintains his lead over Lamon, 42% to 24%.
We’ve been warning all year about the danger of the fascist billionaire buying Senate seats (in this cycle, Ohio and Arizona), most recently last week. A few days ago, writing for Jacobin, Ben Burgis took a closer look, from a different perspective, at just who this fascist billionaire really is: Peter Thiel Wants You to Think He’s an Evil Genius. He’s Just a Rich Guy. Burgis wrote that “Some of his classmates at Stanford recalled Thiel, whose family had lived in South Africa in the 1970s, defending apartheid on the basis that ‘it works’— i.e. that South Africa had a higher level of economic development than its neighbors, rendering irrelevant any moral hand-wringing about the country’s human rights abuses. The picture of young Thiel that emerges in the early chapters of [Max CXafkin’s biography] The Contrarian corresponds to the way many people perceive Thiel now that he’s a fifty-four-year-old billionaire who lavishes resources on extreme right-wing candidates in races around the country.”
It’s tempting to speak of Thiel as an evil genius, but we should be wary of taking the persona he’s crafted at face value. The man knows what he’s doing. One of the most revealing sentences in The Contrarian is a quote from a conversation Thiel had with an anonymous friend about Thiel’s surveillance business, Palantir. Forbes had published a cover story about Palantir under the headline “Meet Big Brother.” Civil libertarians were alarmed.
Thiel shrugged it off, telling his friend, “I’d rather be seen as evil than incompetent.”
The Contrarian is at its best when Chafkin is poking holes in Thiel’s self-branding. For example, Thiel and his associates encouraged the idea that Palantir’s technology was crucial to the operation to kill Osama bin Laden. The party line at the company was, with a wink and a nod, that they weren’t at liberty to disclose any details — but they could perhaps encourage people to Google the phrase “Palantir bin Laden.” One source actually familiar with the nitty-gritty details told Chafkin that Palantir didn’t really do much to analyze raw information; it was “more of a visualization aid.”
The book is at its weakest when Chafkin takes the Mysterious Evil Genius branding seriously, presenting the contradictions in Thiel’s alleged ideology as interesting enigmas rather than signs that he’s spewing superficially edgy-sounding nonsense to trigger the libs and cultivate his own persona. Thiel wants us to think he’s operating on a master plan rooted in a deep commitment to some secretive but ideologically consistent vision, but that portrayal doesn’t line up with reality.
Thiel has often claimed to be a “libertarian” but he spent the Bush years securing government contracts for Palantir and complaining that, even at the height of the “war on terror,” the government was too squeamish about privacy. He’s recently emerged as the primary billionaire sugar daddy for a whole crop of alleged “populists” like Josh Hawley, Blake Masters, and J. D. Vance, who talk a big (albeit empty) game about helping working-class people— but in 2012, just one decade prior, he went in on Ron Paul’s campaign, with its emphasis on eviscerating social programs and leaving everything up to the free market.
In other words, Thiel is all over the place. He’s also questionably effective: Thiel was a member of Trump’s transition team, but it seems his role entirely consisted of suggesting the names of obscure right-wing eccentrics for various jobs and being shot down by Trump’s people. (Thiel loves obscure right-wing eccentrics; see his patronage of self-described “monarchist” weirdo Curtis Yarvin.)
Thiel’s political history lacks overall ideological coherence, but there are some through lines. He thinks he personally should make more money, pay less in taxes, and get more government contracts. On a grander scale, he wants government to generally be more servile to the interests of the wealthy. Whatever else they disagree about, pretty much every commentator or politician Thiel has sponsored is on board with that.
To be clear, that agenda is terrible for our society. Every step in the direction of fulfilling these policy preferences makes economic inequality worse, ecological destruction more severe, and the world around us less livable. But these aren’t exactly unusual preferences for a man with Thiel’s wealth. They’re not evil genius ideas. They’re just run-of-the-mill rich guy ideas.
…A better way to talk about Thiel is to point out the deep absurdity of a billionaire bankrolling politician after politician who claims to be a “populist.” If these people were actually interested in helping the populace resist the influence of elites, or perhaps even take away some of the elites’ hoarded wealth to help everyone else, why on earth would Thiel be devoting a chunk of his hoarded wealth to electing them?
A glance at most of these guys’ campaign websites shows that they’re about as “populist” as Gordon Gekko. J. D. Vance, for example, is against universal childcare, against universal healthcare, and even against raising the minimum wage. His “populism” begins and ends with pointing out the existence of deindustrialization and the opioid crisis— without, mind you, clearly articulating a solution to either one— and making some noises about “the establishment” failing ordinary people. Hawley and Masters aren’t much different.
I don’t doubt that all of these people will be reliable votes in the future for various pieces of cruel social legislation to make life harder for gay and trans people, pregnant women, and other vulnerable groups. They’ll do this not to implement some master plan to turn America into a fascist state cooked up by Thiel (himself a married gay man) but because it’s a cheap way of whipping up the conservative side of the culture war and distracting attention from the nothing they plan to do to meet the material needs of their constituents.
Thiel is dangerous— not because he’s an evil mastermind, but because he’s a billionaire who enjoys playing with our politics and he couldn’t care less about the people who get hurt in the process. The real takeaway here is strikingly simple. No halfway decent society would allow concentrated wealth to metastasize to the point where Peter Thiels were possible.