Ah, so here’s the backstory to what I wrote about last Friday, the curious decision by Mitch McConnell’s mega-bucks Super PAC *not* to go all-in on Arizona. McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund group is spending big money in other swing states to elect figures like Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker. It’s also plowing money into Ohio, which is supposed to be safely red but feels competitive at the moment between Democrat Tim Ryan and Peter Thiel protege J.D. Vance.
Blake Masters is a Thiel protege as well and, like Vance, benefited from Thiel’s generosity in his Senate primary. Thiel is a billionaire who invested early in PayPal and Facebook, among other businesses; he backed Trump in 2016 and undertook this cycle to get some ambitious young nationalists elected to the Senate in order to make the GOP even worse, I guess. Between the money he’s getting from McConnell’s group and Ohio’s heavy Republican lean, Vance should end up winning his election. But Masters is dicier, as he’s running in a purple state and facing incumbent Mark Kelly, who’s established himself as one of the Senate’s best fundraisers. Masters needs financial help.
And, curiously, the Senate Leadership Fund is unwilling to provide it for now. Or at least, that’s what they claimed last week.
Which had me scratching my head. If you’re willing to spend to help Oz, Walker, and even Vance, why wouldn’t you be willing to spend on Masters? This new story from WaPo solves the mystery. Evidently McConnell is trying to squeeze Thiel into covering the tab for his boy in Arizona. The Senate Leadership Fund has many obligations, after all, whereas Thiel has only two, Masters and Vance. And since the SLF is already helping with Vance, it’s only right that Thiel pick up the bill for Masters.
The strange part is that Thiel is reportedly very resistant to doing so. It’s not that he doesn’t have the money. His reluctance seems to have more to do with investment principles — even though in this context those principles make zero sense.
McConnell told Thiel over the phone last week that Vance’s race in Ohio was proving more costly for the Senate Leadership Fund than anticipated, that money was not unlimited and that there was a need for the billionaire to “come in, in a big way, in Arizona,” as a person familiar with the conversation described his words. [SLF chief Steven] Law, in a call with Thiel the day before his group cut back on the Arizona ads, expressed concern about Masters as a candidate and pessimism about his campaign’s viability. Both Vance, 38, and Masters, 36, are friends and former business associates of Thiel’s; Masters stepped down from roles at Thiel’s investment firm and foundation this year.
The message from McConnell and Law, according to people with knowledge of their pitch, was that they should essentially split the cost, with Thiel cutting a check to their super PAC matching whatever funds they put behind Masters. Another option, these people said, was that the Thiel-funded super PAC could take over the ad reservations initially made by the McConnell-linked group.
Thiel indicated to them that he was not interested in such arrangements — a posture, say people around the venture capitalist, that is informed by his approach of investing early and a belief that any more of his money would be used as a Democratic talking point; he is still hosting fundraisers for Masters in the coming weeks.
“Thiel has told associates that he has no plans to spend more this cycle — and that his aim was to elevate younger Republican candidates who would mark a sharp break from the party’s neoconservative wing, not to engage in a tit-for-tat spending war with Democrats,” WaPo says at another point in the piece. But … how will Thiel realize his goal of “elevating” young isolationists if they end up losing their general elections? What lesson about those candidates will have supposedly been learned by the GOP establishment and Republican voters if they end up blowing winnable races?
The lesson I would take from it is that Thiel-backed candidates are losers who can’t prevail in November so the party’s better off nominating mainstream hawkish Republicans instead. It seems borderline insane to me to spend many millions on a candidate in a primary and then leave him for dead in a general election, essentially an extended exercise in setting a fortune on fire.
As for Thiel’s fear that further investment in Masters would lead to Democrats using him as a talking point, they’re assuredly going to do that anyway. Ryan has been bludgeoning Vance in Ohio for his Thiel association, calling him a puppet of Silicon Valley billionaires and hedge-funders. Masters is going to get the same thing from Kelly’s campaign whether or not Thiel cuts him another check. So why not cut the check and try to win?
An interesting subplot to all this is that WaPo isn’t the only outlet with news about the McConnell/Thiel standoff today. Puck also has an item on it. Which makes me wonder if perhaps an annoyed Team Mitch is leaking about all this to put pressure on Thiel to reach for his wallet. Maybe embarrassing Thiel publicly by insinuating that he’s a (relative) cheapskate who’s not thinking strategically will convince him to help Masters.
In fact, maybe it already has.
— The AZ – abc15 – Data Guru (@Garrett_Archer) August 31, 2022
I don’t think Masters is a lost cause by any stretch in Arizona, notwithstanding Kelly’s financial advantage. The possibility that the great red wave will crash down on Democrats due to inflation remains real despite the Dems’ improving fortunes lately. But Masters has pissed off a few pro-lifers with his opportunistic climbdown on abortion and may be about to piss off some MAGA fans with an opportunistic climbdown on “stop the steal.” The cherry on top would be for him to opportunistically declare that he’s a neoconservative after all in the fine tradition of Arizona legend John McCain. Thiel should give him money for that reason alone, to keep him from being coopted by McConnell and the establishment. Because if Mitch coopts him, Masters really will become a neocon.