Billionaire investor Peter Thiel may have been trying to drum up more support for Republican candidate Donald Trump this morning at the National Press Club in Washington. But a 15-minute long speech he delivered sounded more like a plea to Americans to understand what’s so wrong with this country, rather than a case for Trump. His pitch: American is broken, and there’s nothing crazy about supporting change — despite Trump.
He didn’t talk about Trump’s intellect, his command of the issues, or his suitability for the office of president.
Instead, Thiel spoke at length about the condition of the U.S., citing a litany of statistics mean to alarm: 64 percent of people age 55 in the U.S have less than a year’s worth of savings. Healthcare costs are “10 times” the cost of “simple medicines” anywhere else in the world. College tuition has risen faster than the rate of inflation. Millennials expect their lives to be worse than the lives of their parents. Incomes are stagnant, with the median household making less money today than 17 years ago. The government is “wasting trillions of dollars of taxpayer money” on foreign wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.
Trump, argued Thiel, is a vote against the status quo, even while Thiel offered nary a detail about how Trump would address any of these issues.
In many ways, follow-up questions that followed Thiel’s presentation were more interesting than the speech itself.
Asked about Trump’s vulgar, decade-old comments about women that aired earlier this month, Thiel said they were in “extremely poor taste” and “extremely inappropriate” but he argued that Trump wouldn’t make the same comments today.
Asked about his recent, widely reported $1.25 million donation to Trump’s campaign, Thiel said he “didn’t think about it as much as I should have.” He noted that neither candidate’s campaign has been hugely successful on the fundraising front, adding that Trump specifically hasn’t raised much, so “I didn’t think he needed the money, and I hadn’t donated.”
When the campaign finally asked him for help — apparently after it became clear that none was forthcoming — “I thought I’d go ahead and write a check,” Thiel said.
Thiel was also asked about Trump’s personality traits and whether he is concerned about his temperament. Thiel mostly dodged the question, saying instead that when it comes to president, he’s more concerned with world view than temperament, and that he’s more worried about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, saying he thinks she has the propensity to get the U.S. into “more wars.”
Asked about other government regulations, including around small businesses, Thiel said he thinks Trump “viscerally” understands them.
What about Trump’s track record as a businessman? He has a “huge number of zeros” in his net worth, said Thiel.
Pressed on what he thinks of Trump’s four (or more) bankruptcies, Thiel said he suspects that “real estate is very different than tech. It’s a fairly zero sum business — a very tough industry especially in big cities like Manhattan or San Francisco. I suspect in many ways what [Trump] did was par for the course in that context.”
What about the tax returns that Trump has refused to admit? Here, Thiel suggested that government focuses too much on transparency, suggesting that it’s why we “in some ways have a less talented group running [for office] than 30 or 40 years ago.”
Not last, Thiel was asked about Trump’s oft-repeated statements about banning Muslims from traveling to the United States.
Somewhat amazingly, Thiel — who said he doesn’t support a “religious test” — said the “media is always taking him literally. I think a lot of the voters take him seriously but not literally, so when they hear the Muslim comment or the wall comment, it’s not, ‘Are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China but, ‘We’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy’ and ‘How do we strike the right balance between costs and benefits?'”
Um. Here’s Trump talking about the “impenetrable, physical” wall he wants to build in a campaign speech last month.
Thiel acknowledged that he has “gotten pushback” owing to his support for Trump. He said that his “close working relationships remain intact,” however, and that his very public stance hasn’t impacted his businesses as far as he is aware.
He also said that he isn’t interested in a full-time role in politics.