Business

Praising Trump’s Platform

Posted November 5, 2018 5:57 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — How often does a tweet, a policy action or a statement by President Donald Trump leave Peter Thiel, a vocal supporter, in disbelief?

“It doesn’t happen very often,” he said.

By many classic measures, Thiel has impeccable Silicon Valley credentials: He is a co-founder of PayPal, a Facebook board member since 2005, a partner at the venture capital firm Founders Fund, a sponsor of an ocean cleanup project and a bitcoin investor.

But in many ways, he is a man on an island — and not just because he has New Zealand citizenship.

His frequent defense of Trump — a stance that Reed Hastings of Netflix referred to as “catastrophically bad judgment” — has set him apart from much of the tech industry.

Trump’s presidency has been “relatively successful,” he said last week, citing tax reform, deregulation and trade discussions. The nation’s shift away from globalism was called a “healthy rebalancing.” The administration’s stance on gay rights “has been dramatically better than any of the other Republican administrations in the past,” said Thiel, who is gay.

He acknowledged that the current political environment was “not healthy” but said that Trump and his combative rhetoric were “not the main cause, not even remotely.”

Instead, he blamed the economy. “The pie has not been growing fast enough,” he said. “In a low-growth, zero-growth world, you get ahead only if you take something from someone else.”

The country’s economic health will determine how voters feel in 2020, Thiel said.

“The question will be: Is the economy in a boom? If so, Trump will get re-elected,” he said. “If not, he will have challenges.”

And the president’s many unsupported, exaggerated or misleading comments about trade, immigration and even his own popularity?

“I tend to think that the inaccuracies President Trump tells, they’re basically exaggerations of the truth,” Thiel said. “That’s the way most of his supporters hear them.”

Thiel did allow that the conspiracy theories, misinformation and hateful language that have proved difficult to tamp out at Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram, were “certainly worrisome.”

“It’s a complicated thing to get right,” he said.

Thiel also addressed his decision to move to Los Angeles this year, saying Silicon Valley now “feels like a one-party state” that has lost some of the “magic” that once made it unique. In September, his venture firm Mithril Capital announced it would move to Austin, Texas, from San Francisco next year.

Investment-worthy projects, Thiel said, are more likely to come from outside of the Northern California tech hub than within it. And he said he believed that “the big ideas have been tried” in the consumer internet category and “perhaps there aren’t as many big breakthroughs left.”

“In the last three, four years, it feels like it’s jumped the shark,” he said. “It’s not the wisdom of crowds, it’s the madness of crowds.”