Tech Titan Peter Thiel Explains Support for Donald Trump Amid Controversy

Thiel said Trump's ideas won't fade even if he loses the election.

ByPAUL BLAKE
October 31, 2016, 12:14 PM

— -- Controversial tech investor Peter Thiel doubled down on and explained his support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign today at an event in Washington, D.C., saying that the Republican nominee’s ideas and support will not dissipate even if he loses the election.

Thiel, a billionaire entrepreneur who helped launch tech giants like PayPal and Facebook, became all but a household name in recent months for secretly bankrolling a lawsuit that brought down media empire Gawker and for his public support for Trump.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Thiel said, “No matter what happens in this election, what Trump represents is not crazy, and it’s not going away. He points to a new Republican Party beyond the dogmas of Reaganism.”

“When the distracting spectacles of this election season are forgotten,” Thiel said toward the end of his opening remarks, “the only important question will be whether or not that new politics came too late.”

Thiel, who supported Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012 and Carly Fiorina earlier in this election cycle, said that he wished the final choice were between Trump and Bernie Sanders, because both “felt the decline” of America — a sentiment he said is shared by many Americans across the country who live outside the wealthy pockets that surround Washington and Silicon Valley.

Thiel explained his rationale for supporting Trump, saying, “It’s not a lack of judgment that leads Americans to vote for Trump. We’re voting for Trump because we judge the leadership of our country to have failed.”

Among other topics that he said motivated his views, he cited financial concerns facing baby boomers, the “overpriced” health care system, the high tuition costs that millennials face, stagnant wages and the taxpayer money he said is being wasted on foreign conflicts.

Thiel, who was outed as gay by a Gawker-owned site against his wishes in 2007, gained attention outside the tech field in the spring after admitting that he bankrolled a lawsuit against Gawker Media that ultimately led to its declaring bankruptcy.

PHOTO: Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, delivers a speech during the evening session on the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland.
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, delivers a speech during the evening session on the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In July his national prominence was boosted when he gave a speech during the Republican National Convention, saying, “Every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican.”

During his speech, he decried America’s distraction by “fake culture wars,” saying that in his youth the country was worried about defeating the Soviet Union. He lamented that the country was now distracted by “who gets to use which bathroom” and asked, “Who cares?”

Asked whether he received private assurances from Trump that he would protect recent civil rights advances for the gay community, Thiel said that he had had no such conversations but that he was confident that Trump would defend an expansion of gay rights.

He said Trump represents “a sea change from Bush 43,” referring to President George W. Bush. Thiel pointed to Bush’s negative campaigning on gay rights in 2004 in explaining his comments.

The New York Times reported earlier this month, citing “a person close to the investor,” that Thiel was doubling down on his support for Trump and giving $1.25 million to support his campaign “through a combination of super PAC donations and funds given directly to the campaign.”

Thiel’s support for the Trump campaign has generated controversy in Silicon Valley, where some felt that companies should sever ties with the investor for supporting a candidate they felt stoked discrimination.

Facing pressure, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg defended Thiel’s presence as a board member at the social network in mid-October.

Zuckerberg said that championing diversity is easy “when it means standing up for ideas you agree with” but that “it’s a lot harder when it means standing up for the rights of people with different viewpoints to say what they care about.”

“There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault,” Zuckerberg said in an internal company memo.

Similarly, Sam Altman, president of startup incubator Y Combinator, was forced to respond to the controversy. In a blog post endorsing Hillary Clinton, he addressed the outrage over Thiel’s continued presence as a part-time partner at Y Combinator, saying “as repugnant as Trump is to many of us, we are not going to fire someone over his or her support of a political candidate.”

Thiel, a fixture in Silicon Valley, told The New York Times in May that he supported the lawsuit against Gawker as means of “specific deterrence” after he saw “Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”

The lawsuit that he supported was brought by celebrity wrestler Hulk Hogan after the company published a sex tape featuring him.

Hogan’s court victory in March saw a $140 million judgment against the media company that it was unable to pay.

After being denied a request for a new trial, the company sought bankruptcy protection, and its assets were sold off to Univision, a media company that has traditionally targeted Spanish-speaking Americans. Gawker Media’s marquee site, Gawker.com, was mothballed; other brands continue to operate under Univision’s direction.

Thiel also told The New York Times, “I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves.”

At today event, Thiel did not explicitly defend some of the more controversial statements made by Trump during the election season but did suggest that they were being overblown.

Thiel said that he wouldn’t support such measures as a religious test for immigrants and that he “wouldn’t support the specific language that Trump has used” at many points over the campaign

He added that the media were wrong to take Trump “literally” but not “seriously” and that Trump’s supporters have taken him seriously but not literally.

“Now that someone is different is in the running,” Thiel said during his prepared remarks. “His larger-than-life persona attracts a lot of attention.”

“Nobody would suggest that Donald Trump is a humble man, but the big things that he is right about amount to a much-needed dose of humility” in our political system, he said.

ABC News’ Lesley Messer, Michael Rothman and Meghan Keneally contributed to this report.

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