A few weeks ago, Mitch McConnell was complaining that the Republicans’ chances of winning the Senate were dwindling, thanks in part to “candidate quality.” That’s a euphemism for MAGA extremists, which is endemic to the GOP in races throughout this election cycle.
But in two Senate races that McConnell had been counting on, he has gay billionaire Peter Thiel to thank for his headache. Thiel bankrolled the primary campaigns of two of his proteges. He spent at least $15 million to help Blake Masters, the former chief operating officer of Thiel’s venture capital fund, win the GOP nomination for senator in Arizona. In Ohio, Thiel invested $10 million in Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance’s successful primary campaign.
Now McConnell and Thiel are engaged in a fight about who pays for Thiel’s lousy candidates. McConnell obviously feels that Thiel picked them, so he should foot the bill. However, Thiel feels that at this point, it’s all up to the GOP to pick up the tab.
“This is a Thiel problem that has a Thiel solution,” Liam Donovan, a Republican lobbyist and strategist, told CNN. “Anybody that emerged from these primaries with 30% was going to need help. The difference here is there’s a patron that has the capacity to help.”
To say that both candidates fulfill McConnell’s standard of poor candidate quality is an understatement. Masters has proven himself to be exactly the kind of candidate you would think Thiel would support–which is to say, someone who is pretty far out there. Masters doesn’t shy from statements that are racist, homophobic, and sexist.
Masters hit the trifecta last week when pointed to an AP story that noted that “more female, Black and gay officials contributing to the central bank’s interest-rate decisions than at any time in its 109-year history.” That statement of fact led Masters to comment sarcastically, “Finally a compelling explanation for why our economy is doing so well.”
This comes after saying that Thiel’s own marriage should be invalidated, that fetuses should be granted personhood status, and that “everybody should read” the Unabomber’s writings. No wonder incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly is ahead of Masters in the polls.
Vance has also proven to be a lackluster candidate. He can vanish from the campaign trail for days. He has also gone full MAGA, bringing in the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) to campaign with him and calling for firing millions of federal employees, which hasn’t sat well with some establishment Republicans. Meanwhile, Vance’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, has run a strong campaign, raising more money than Vance and portraying himself successfully as the kind of blue-collar candidate that better represents Ohio.
Ohio leans Republican, so the odds still favor Vance, but McConnell is still having to pour an estimated $28 million into what should be a safe state to shore up Vance’s weak campaign. He’d like Thiel to pony up some of that cash, but Thiel seems to have take a hard-line negotiating stand. He knows that McConnell needs the victory to become Senate Majority Leader again, so the pressure is on McConnell to find the funds.
Why Thiel would want to invest in his hand-picked candidates in the primary only to cut them off in the general election is hard to understand? Perhaps he looks at them like another venture capital investment, where he invests early and then it’s up to them to succeed. In any case, Thiel did the GOP no favors this election cycle. Mitch McConnell would be the first to tell you as much.