Of all of the speakers’ names released by the Trump campaign, one of the most surprising and biggest coups (at least from the perspective of a Silicon Valley resident) was Peter Thiel. While the private Thiel is not a national celebrity, in the Valley Thiel is a legend, so much so that he has been able to be that rare conservative major figure in Silicon Valley who defies the Democratic party orthodoxy. As one of the founders of and PayPal and Palantir Technologies and the first investor in Facebook (all of which went on to multi-billion dollar valuations) he’s one of the most successful entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley.
Beyond that, he’s seen as one of the valley’s top visionaries. Billionaires (of which Thiel is one) are a dime a dozen in the valley. But true visionaries are a far rarer thing and when Thiel speaks the valley listens.
Thiel had been a major supporter of both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and it was something of a parlor game among Valley conservatives which one he would sign up with. But Thiel surprised everyone by saying on the sidelines, only to eventually sign up with Trump as a delegate and then a convention speaker.
Once he took the stage, Thiel delivered a strong performance. He linked is own rise to his growing up in the Cleveland area and stressed that he understood that the prosperity of Silicon Valley was not shared widely throughout the economy.
But two things in particular jumped out of Thiel’s speech—First, he was the first speaker to pick up on the muscular yet restrained nationalism implicit in Trump’s approach to foreign affairs. He criticized Hillary’s war in Libya and said that it was time to “end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country”. It is hard to imagine that being an applause line at a Bush-Era GOP convention. Thiel’s politics are difficult to capture but he definitely has a paleoconservative streak and it was on full display there.
But even more noteworthy (at least to the national media) Thiel (who is notoriously private about his personal life but who was outed as gay by a tabloid web site several years ago), said that “I am proud to be gay, I am proud to be a Republican, but most of all, I am proud to be an American”. Thiel’s remarks were given to a huge round of applause and marked the first time an openly gay person had announced his sexuality at a GOP convention. Again, that sort of reception would have been hard to imagine at a GOP convention a a decade or two ago.
He then pivoted deftly to criticize the left for the recent “bathroom wars” (started by liberals, not conservatives contrary to the media spin) and, while gracefully noting his disagreements with the GOP platform’s views on homosexuality, he said that “fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline and only one candidate is honest about it and that is Donald Trump.”
The convention quite literally provided Thiel’s coming out party on the national stage. It was a very successful debut, and it will be interesting to see whether Thiel uses his new national profile to wade more deeply into the political waters in the future.