Murdoch’s World: Thiel vs. McConnell

thiel & mcconnell
The fight between McConnell and Thiel over who will fund the Masters campaign is dividing Murdoch world. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Getty Images & Chandan Khanna/AFP
Theodore Schleifer
September 20, 2022

The fight between Mitch McConnell and Peter Thiel over who will fund Blake Masters, which I have been covering in depth the past few weeks, is now dividing Murdoch world just as it is the broader G.O.P. It didn’t go unnoticed among insiders, for instance, when the Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel, who is close with the G.O.P. establishment, wrote a column on Thursday effectively begging Thiel to cut a check to Masters. “Where’s the would-be kingmaker now? Sitting in his counting house, the doors firmly locked,” she wrote, in a call-out that could have been written by McConnell himself. (The headline, not subtly, was “Peter Thiel, Losing Arizona.”)

Meanwhile, an hour or two later on Fox News, Tucker Carlson basically handed Thiel the mic when he taped a whole segment about how Masters had been “defunded” and “shafted” by McConnell. Carlson, who is working on a documentary about the Masters bid, ended the segment with a monologue in which he might as well have been speaking to an audience of one: “I hope patriotic Americans can make up that deficit and get Blake Masters to the United States Senate.” Everyone, it seems, is now trying to use the press to negotiate.

McConnell’s team, in its first on-record comments about the tiff with Thiel, framed this contretemps as about hard choices. “Arizona’s tough,” Steven Law, the head of McConnell’s super PAC, told Major Garrett on the CBS correspondent’s podcast last week, waving away Garrett’s suggestion that the Leadership Fund believes Thiel should foot the bill for dragging his candidate across the finish line. “You measure every race against every other race,” Law continued diplomatically (and not wrongly). “You’ve got to take a look at where your opportunities are. We don’t have unlimited money—some days people think that, but we don’t. And so we’ve got to make a decision, at the end of the day, where does this race versus another race stand?”

Superficially at least, McConnell is doing what he can—he is hosting another fundraiser for Masters in Washington on Wednesday, according to an invite that made its way to me yesterday. In the meantime, outside money is filling the void left when McConnell’s team withdrew $8 million in ads that had been planned to run in Arizona this month, including $5 million from a super PAC allied with the Heritage Foundation, and then more from what I count to be at least four other outside groups. And Masters continues to be competitive in horse race polling, despite whispers from McConnell’s allies to me that they don’t think Masters has much of a shot.

The McConnell-Thiel-Masters standoff isn’t over—far from it. For the past several weeks, insiders have been watching to see whether McConnell’s super PAC would withdraw its planned ad spending for Masters in October, too. Then, on Tuesday, the news bomb dropped: Senate Leadership Fund is officially cancelling nearly $10 million in ad reservations. Paging Thiel Capital…

Chuck Schumer reportedly predicted last week that the Arizona race would only be competitive if Thiel himself ponied up. And Thiel is, sorta—he’s continuing to host many, many hard-dollar fundraisers in the final 50-day sprint. Among them is a fundraiser that Theil is hosting for Masters at his home in Bel Air on September 30, according to a new invitation I saw Monday. Tickets run from $1,500 to $5,800 per person. Other hosts include investors Michael Wang of Prometheus and Keri Findley of Tacora Capital; and conservative activists Tom and Natalie Sauer. In a sign of Thiel’s own exalted status as a veritable celebrity with few rivals among the donor class, the subject line of the invitation email reads: “Come meet Peter Thiel & Blake Masters.” So over the next ten days, Masters is going to fundraise with both of the two people who may decide his fate. But of course, it is much less of an ask for McConnell and Thiel to throw Masters a hard-dollar party than it is for either of their teams to write a serious soft-dollar check.