tech outlier

Trump's German-Born Backer

Peter Thiel says he has suffered for his support of Donald Trump. Source: Bloomberg
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Even if Donald Trump loses, the anger driving voters to the Republican candidate is unlikely to dissipate. It helps to understand where the rage comes from.

  • Facts


    • Peter Thiel is co-founder of PayPal, the world’s leading digital payments website, and an early investor in Facebook.
    • Born in Frankfurt, it recently emerged that Mr. Thiel had donated $1.25 million (€1.14 million) to Donald Trump’s campaign.
    • Mr. Thiel’s adopted Silicon Valley home is a solid Democratic Party stronghold in northern California.
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Peter Thiel has a message for those disparaging the backers of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump: Don’t ignore us.

The co-founder of U.S. payments website PayPal, who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, counts as one of the Republican candidate’s more ardent backers? He’s an iconoclast among a liberal  majority in Silicon Valley, not only through his support of Mr. Trump.

Trump voters cannot be dismissed as racists or homophobes, Mr. Thiel said in an appearance at the National Press Club Monday in Washington. They are simply Americans who are fed up with the political status quo, and see in the real-estate baron a real chance to change the system and bring about positive change.

“It’s not a lack of judgement that motivates Americans to vote for Trump,’’ Mr. Thiel said. “We’re voting for Trump because we’ve judged the leadership of our country to have failed.”

Mr. Thiel argued it’s a reality that “has been hard to accept for some of the country’s most fortunate, socially-prominent people. It’s certainly been hard to accept for Silicon Valley, where many people have learned to keep quiet if they dissent from the Coastal norms.’’

Mr. Thiel should know. The 49-year-old billionaire has made Silicon Valley his adopted home. It’s where he made his fortune as an early investor in Facebook and co-creator of the world’s top digital payments website together with Elon Musk and Max Levchin.

“The media has always taken Trump literally but has never taken him seriously. A lot of the voters ... take him seriously but not literally.”

Peter Thiel, PayPal Co-Founder

But his backing of Mr. Trump, including a recent reported donation of $1.25 million to the Republican’s campaign, has alienated him in this Democratic stronghold of northern California. It’s even forced top tech titans like Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to justify why they still associate with him.

Mr. Thiel acknowledged that he has personally suffered for his support of Mr. Trump.

The Advocate, a gay newspaper, once praised the PayPal co-founder as a “gay innovator.’’ The same magazine recently published an article that said Mr. Thiel was “not a gay man’’ because of his support for Trump and “because I don’t agree with their politics. The lie behind the buzzword of diversity could not be made more clear,” he said.

So why does nearly half of the American electorate support Mr. Trump?

“I think it’s because of the big things that Trump gets right,” Mr. Thiel said, pointing as an example to the impact of free-trade on many rural parts of the United States.

“Free trade has not worked out well for all of America. In actual practices, we’ve lost tens of thousands of factories and millions of jobs to foreign trade. The heartland has been devastated,” he said.

It’s not that the PayPal co-founder backs all of the Republican candidate’s controversial remarks. Mr. Thiel said he did not support Mr. Trump’s comments about groping women, calling them “clearly inappropriate,” nor did he support a religious test to bar Muslims from entering the country, something else Mr. Trump once advocated.

But these are not a reason to dismiss the candidate. Mr. Thiel said the U.S. media intentionally exaggerates Mr. Trump’s statements to an absurd degree, in an attempt to undermine him among the electorate.

“The media has always taken Trump literally but has never taken him seriously,” Mr. Thiel said. “I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take him seriously but not literally.”

Mr. Thiel pointed as examples to Trump’s repeated promise to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, a pledge that has gained resonance with his supporters.

“The question is not whether you’re going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China. What they hear is we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy. We’re going to try to figure this out.’’


Kevin O’Brien is editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global. Christopher Cermak of Handelsblatt Global and Alexander Demling of Handelsblatt also contributed to this story. To contact the author:

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