Like Cawthorn In Many Ways, Masters Is A DARK MAGAT
I didn't know a lot about Blake Masters, a hard core conservative Republican Senate candidate from Arizona, until yesterday. I knew he's a Peter Thiel protégé and one of this candidates and that Thiel has already put around $13.5 million into his campaign and is likely to buy him Trump's endorsement, the same way he did for JD Vance in Ohio. And I knew that despite all that money-- as of March 31 his campaign had already spent $1,476,035 and Thiel's Saving Arizona SuperPAC had spent another $5,284,385 on his behalf-- he's consistently been in third place in the polling for the August 2 GOP primary. Jim Lamon and Mark Brnovich usually tie with around a quarter of the vote each and Masters has been in the high teens. Polls that test him against Democrat Mark Kelly show him losing worse than the other Republican contenders. This is the most recent survey by GOP polling firm Trafalgar:
He co-wrote (or ghost wrote) two books for Thiel (rumored to have been his lover or sex parter), and Thiel made him president of the Thiel Foundation. Although Masters went to Stanford and Stanford Law school, he is stupid enough to be a devoted Trump supporter. And I knew he has publicly said that Trump won the 2020 election and that he has come out not just against abortion but against contraception as well (although he now threatens to sue anyone who says that)-- so not just stupid, but insane.
Friday, writing for Politico, Hank Stephenson, noted, in an excellent candidate profile, that another Thiel ass-licker, Tucker Carlson, has called Masters the future of the GOP, but never mentions the rumors of the sexual relationship between Masters-- who is married to a woman and has a brood of children-- and Thiel-- who is openly gay and, post-Masters, married another man. And, of course, he never mentioned that Thiel bought Vance Trump's endorsement or that he will do the same thing for Masters. Stephenson wrote that Trump "still hasn’t made an endorsement in the race, and it’s not clear if he will, despite a promise to do so. After the Pennsylvania Senate GOP primary failed to net a decisive win for Trump-endorsed TV star Mehmet Oz, the former president is reportedly withholding his endorsement in Arizona 'indefinitely.' Without that endorsement, Masters concedes he probably can’t win the primary." Thiel is aware that's just Trump trying to jack up the amount of the bribe. "Through Thiel-- the architect of, or at least the bank account for, the New Right movement-- Masters got a job on the Trump 2016 transition team. He name-drops Steve Bannon, a close friend with whom he says he fought the 'Deep State' and whose office was just down the hall."
The last candidate Thiel backed, the populist author and financier J.D. Vance, came from behind in the polls to win his Ohio Senate primary, and is a favorite to win in November. Masters will be the next test of Thiel’s influence, and a new style of politics: candidates from elite schools and even more elite financial backgrounds embracing “the National Conservative” or New Right movement, a particularly populist, nationalist and even authoritarian strain of conservatism. The movement is certainly Trump-inflected, but also aligned with and increasingly bankrolled by Thiel.
Despite Trump’s four years in the White House and his enduring dominance over the GOP, Trumpism as an ideology is still largely inchoate. And this is where Thiel, Vance and Masters come in. The Masters and Vance candidacies offer an opportunity to flesh out Trumpism-- or Thielism-- and reshape the GOP.
Tucker Carlson, who brings Masters on his Fox News show regularly, calls him “the future of the Republican Party.” But first Masters has to get elected. And his campaign offers a test for whether the New Right can gain traction-- both in the GOP and with a broader electorate in a key swing state.
Masters’ views, while hard right, are not quite fringe in today’s Republican Party. He’s a harsh critic of Big Tech and says Trump was robbed in 2020. He traffics in the “replacement theory” that Democrats want to change the electorate through a wave of undocumented immigrants. He opposes aid to Ukraine and the right to an abortion. (He recently faced controversy for criticizing Griswold v. Connecticut, which legalized contraceptives nationally, though he said he doesn’t want to outlaw contraception and, taking a page from Thiel, threatened to sue an Arizona news outlet for defamation.)
Masters also clearly likes to get a rise out of people. He counts Ted Kaczynski as among his intellectual influencers-- pointing to the Unabomber’s manifesto as a source of inspiration for his own message of the dystopian techno-present. He told one conservative interviewer that left-wing ideology makes “a pretty good candidate for the Antichrist.”
...Masters is unusual: A thin, almost eerie presence who films dark campaign videos of himself, alone in the desert, staring into the camera lens as he delivers dystopian monologues about the “psychopaths” running the country. (Dystopian is a phrase that’s never far from his lips: He applies it to modern dating, urban crime, Big Tech censorship generally, and Apple’s optional “child safety” features on iPhones specifically, among other many things.)
Masters describes his campaign video aesthetic as “Terrence Malick-esque,” referencing the famed director of Thin Red Line and Tree of Life, who Masters calls “artsy but not pretentious.” The New York Times Magazine found different inspiration, declaring the ads Tucker Carlson-esque.
During an hour-and-a-half conversation at an In-N-Out Burger, Masters says the ads aren’t meant to imitate Carlson. But there’s a reason he’s the most popular cable host on television, Masters says: His shows tap into a mix of base Trumpian rage and conservative intellectualism-- clearly the Senate hopeful’s own aspiration.
Masters knows he’s controversial--he just doesn’t know why. Or, more accurately, he vacillates between embracing his controversial Dark MAGA image and maintaining that there’s nothing contentious about it. Who would find a family-centric, pro-America agenda controversial, he asks slyly. He wants the attention of a contrarian without the blowback of an extremist. Indeed, for all of the extremists in public office in Arizona, and there have been many, the state’s U.S. senators have largely portrayed themselves as steadfastly centrist, regardless of their party. Masters is not that.
“I don’t think Arizonans want a moderate. I think they want someone who’s non-crazy,” he says. “Look, I’m bold. I’m running a bold campaign. I’m not gonna mince words: I think our country is in a lot of trouble. And I talk about problems and solutions.”
But he’s not crazy, he insists.
“I’m unique and differentiated and interesting. And maybe that correlates to new leadership that knows what time it is. Instead of just like, ‘Hi, I’m a narcissist with political ambitions. Let me hire a consultant, please tell me what to say so I can get this position of power.’ Like, fuck that, that’s what all these other people do.”
...His entire campaign is based on a premise that voters will find him jarringly different, yet mainstream enough to be electable. In one campaign ad, Masters introduces the audience to one of his short-barreled rifles, noting it’s not designed for hunting: “This is designed to kill people.” His armory also includes a grenade launcher (for which he does not have live rounds, though not for lack of trying) and his “ghost gun” a “very legal & very cool” automatic rifle that he 3D printed before it was illegal to do so. I suggested we do an interview while firing off some rounds. He was noncommittally into it and we made a tentative plan, but it never happened. He asks if I am going to make him look like a nutjob. Probably, I tell him with a chuckle.
“It’ll probably help me,” he shoots back with a big grin. In an Arizona Republican primary, he’s probably right.
Local politicos have a hard time knowing what to make of the upstart candidate.
Though he was rumored to be considering a run for the Senate two years ago, Masters has never really been involved in politics in the state. Many people in the Republican circle in his hometown of Tucson-- it’s a Democratic town so it’s a small circle-- haven’t even met him. Despite being raised in Arizona, he has better connections in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., than at home.
...Masters says a lot of things candidates aren’t supposed to say.
In addition to signal-boosting Ted Kaczynski, Masters has faced scrutiny for a 2006 essay he wrote for the libertarian site LewRockwell.com that was recently unearthed by Jewish Insider; it included a quote from the high-ranking Nazi official Hermann Goering and argued the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a just war in 140 years. In a statement to Jewish Insider, Masters said he didn’t endorse the Nazi leader’s views and that as an undergraduate anti-war activist, he went “too far” in denouncing so many American wars. But he also hit back at the “cheap journalist tactic” of “guilt by association.”
It would be easy for him to denounce the essay as misconstrued or the tone-deaf ravings of a dumb college kid. But that’s not his style. After the one-man debate, Masters brings up the Jewish Insider piece to me unbidden and defends his college writing. That he can’t quote a Nazi explaining how Nazis wrought the horror of war and genocide symbolizes everything that’s wrong with American politics right now, he says. That kind of cowering from thought-stifling cancel-culture warriors is what turned the right into a neutered force of blandness. Not to mention, he adds, that Adolf Hitler coined the phrase “the Big Lie.”
Yo get to Washington and help remake the GOP, Masters will have to sell his millennial New Right vision to a decidedly old right crowd: Arizona Republican primary voters.
Roughly 70 percent of the Republican primary electorate here is over the age of 55. Other than the campaign aide who drove him, Masters is the youngest person at the Quail Creek Republican Club, a required pit-stop in southern Arizona for any candidate hoping to capture GOP support. When he arrives, 20 minutes late, he sits in the back, thumb-punching his phone and occasionally stepping out as the other candidates deliver their stump speeches about border security, election fraud allegations, the rule of law.
His stump speech kicks off by denouncing his Democratic rival, Kelly, saying he’s worse than Bernie Sanders because Kelly has “the audacity to pretend to be a moderate.” It includes a few laugh lines, mostly about dating his wife, who he met in middle school. But there’s only one real applause line-- when he pledges to vote to convict Biden at an impeachment trial for not defending the laws of the United States by allowing undocumented immigrants to cross the border.
He talks about how he and his wife homeschool their three boys, and how critical race theory is poisoning the minds of the youth to make them hate their country. He, on the other hand, grew up on Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman (that’s why it took him so long to convince his wife to date him) and has always remained “militantly anti-progressive” despite growing up in liberal Tucson, going to law school at liberal Stanford and starting his career in liberal Silicon Valley.
...Billionaires playing in politics is commonplace at this point. But two of Thiel’s very recently former employees are running for the U.S. Senate and are essentially only in the hunt because of his money. That level of entanglement is relatively new and raises all sorts of questions about a politician’s allegiance. Of course, Masters says he’ll be fully independent of Thiel’s sway.
“I’ll hear him out because he’s smart,” he tells me. “And I’ll take some votes that piss him off. I’m quite sure about that.”
...Masters never shies away from embracing Thiel, calling him a visionary, conservative patriot and mentor and friend who was among Trump’s first and most loyal supporters. The Koch family is “basically open border Democrats,” he says, and the right needs its own George Soros.
“If you know any other America First billionaires, please come and introduce them to me,” he says. “Because I’ll take their support too.”