WASHINGTON — Tech billionaire Peter Thiel, facing intense criticism for his financial support of Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, struck back Monday against the Washington and Silicon Valley “elites” he said are ignoring the economic difficulties afflicting many Americans.
“What Donald Trump represents isn’t crazy, and it’s not going away,” he said during a speech at the National Press Club.
Thiel, who recently announced that he would donate $1.25 million to aid Trump’s candidacy, called the New York businessman’s comments about groping women “clearly offensive and inappropriate.”
But he said he and other Trump voters won’t pull the levers on Election Day to “judge a candidate’s flaws.”
“We’re voting for Trump because we judge the leadership of our country” as failed, Thiel said. “This judgment,” he added, “has certainly been hard to accept for Silicon Valley, where many people have learned to keep quiet if they dissent from the coastal bubble.”
Some in the tech world have called for Thiel to be dropped from the boards of the social network giant Facebook and California incubator Y Combinator over the donations. Thiel, who made his fortune co-founding PayPal, said the pushback has not affected his business dealings in “any meaningful way.”
But Thiel, who also spoke in support of Trump at July’s Republican National Convention, said he was surprised by the level of outrage. He specifically called out a leading LGBT magazine, The Advocate, for running an op-ed that questioned whether Thiel, a prominent gay conservative, could still be considered gay for backing Trump.
“The lie behind the buzzword of diversity could not be made more clear,” Thiel said Monday. “If don’t conform, then you don’t count as diverse, no matter what your personal background.”
He said Trump gets the “big things” right, such as understanding that free trade “has not worked out well for all of America” and that voters have grown tired of 15 years of overseas conflicts.
During his appearance in Washington, Thiel also defended another controversial position: His decision to financially back wrestler Hulk Hogan’s successful lawsuit against the media site Gawker for publishing a tape of Hogan having sex. The lawsuit drove Gawker into bankruptcy.
Thiel said the lawsuit was not an attack on the First Amendment but sought to fight back against the most “egregious invasion of privacy imaginable.” He slammed Gawker as acting like a “sociopathic bully.”
Even as he defended Trump, Thiel made clear that his views diverged from the real-estate magnate’s in other ways. When asked about Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country, Thiel said he opposes “religious tests.”
Thiel is well-known for his contrarian positions, and his activity in the 2016 election is not his first foray into politics.
In the 2012 election, Thiel gave $2.6 million to a super PAC that backed then-Rep. Ron Paul’s candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Early in the 2016 cycle, he contributed $2 million to back former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s unsuccessful bid for the GOP nomination, Federal Election Commission records shows.
“I’ve always had a bias for outsider candidates,” he said, adding that he would have preferred a general-election showdown between Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
He’s also a generous contributor to the anti-tax group, Club For Growth, according to election filings.
Thiel's $1.25 million investment is modest compared to another Silicon Valley figure's political donations. Dustin Moskovitz, a Facebook co-founder, and his wife, Cari Tuna, have contributed more than $23 million since mid-August to help Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, a USA TODAY tally shows.
Contributing: Christopher Schnaars