For years now, ever since he poison-pilled Gawker and stumped at the Republican National Convention for Trump, there have been two competing narratives regarding the political ambitions of Peter Thiel. The first, gobbled up by the press, seductively posits that the billionaire investor and entrepreneur aims to build a Silicon Valley power center in G.O.P. donordom to fill the void left by the late David Koch and Sheldon Adelson, thereby creating an anti-woke counterpoint to his liberal peers.
The second theory, which I often hear from Thiel’s friends, is that his interest in kingmaking has been somewhat exaggerated—that P.T., as he is known by his inner circle, has a narrow, mostly personal interest in the success of his two protégés, J.D. Vance and Blake Masters, whose U.S. Senate campaigns he has sponsored in Ohio and Arizona to the tune of $10 million each.
The more complicated reality, however, is that Thiel has seemed to oscillate between the two narratives. He has surrounded himself with professional Republican strategists who are very much trying to keep him engaged: On some days Thiel is a political obsessive with probing questions about individual districts, but he also expresses the desire to focus on other passions, from Bitcoin to his new family. Which narrative bears out depends in part on how Vance fares two weeks from today, when Ohio Republicans decide on their nominee. And that’s why every Republican who wants Thiel to remain active in G.O.P. politics should be rooting hard for Vance, if solely to keep Thiel’s appetite alive. “The fates of J.D. and Blake will ultimately decide the political fate of Peter in that they will dictate how involved he decides to be,” surmised one Republican close to Vance. “If J.D. and Blake are both successful, common sense tells you and logic tells you that it would likely make anyone say, maybe I should be more involved then. If two people who he really believes in and clearly thinks are brilliant guys, if they run and lose, there’s a different conclusion: Wow, these guys who are super brilliant and are great and are funded—and they still weren’t able to win. What am I really doing here?”