Kris Kobach was a prototype for Donald Trump before Trump ever ran for president.
The Republican made his reputation as the Kansas Secretary of State by crusading against immigrants and (imaginary) voter fraud, but he also trafficked in virulent homophobia. At one point, he compared homosexuality to drug use and polygamy.
Voters in Kansas are going to the polls today to decide whether Kobach should be the GOP nominee for the Senate. And his campaign has been picking up steam, thanks in no small part to Peter Thiel, the gay billionaire who founded PayPal and made a key early Facebook investment. Thiel has given a PAC supporting Kobach nearly $1 million, a sum that dwarfs the $400,000 that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending on behalf of Rep. Roger Marshall, Kobach’s opponent for the party nomination.
In light of Thiel’s past support for Trump, the donation can hardly be a surprise. Thiel spoke at the 2016 Republican convention, singing Trump’s praises (and giving the candidate cover for the anti-LGBTQ policies that his supporters wanted), and donated $1.25 million to Trump’s campaign.
Trump’s performance once in office did little to change Thiel’s support. “With all the flaws, all the challenges the Trump administration’s had, I believe it was incredibly important to articulate certain things about how our political institutions and our society were not working as well before,” Thiel claimed in 2018.
However, Trump’s disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have led Thiel to shift gears. According to a report last month in the Wall Street Journal, Thiel has been telling friends “in private conversations from his oceanfront estate in Hawaii” where he is waiting out the coronavirus in luxury that he thinks Trump’s chances of re-election are dim. Thiel has taken to calling the Trump campaign the S.S. Minnow, a reference to the ill-fated tour boat from Gilligan’s Island.
Thiels is instead putting his money into Congressional campaigns in the apparent hope of salvaging Republicans from a complete rout this November. In choosing Kobach, however, Thiel is placing his bets on a particularly crazy horse. Establishment Republicans are desperate for Kobach to lose, convinced that he will repeat his disastrous performance as the 2018 gubernatorial nominee. Democrats are so eager for Kobach to be the nominee that they have actually been running ads promoting his strong ties to Trump. (Trump has not endorsed Kobach, apparently miffed that his endorsement in 2018 didn’t work.)
But Thiel is not really a Republican. He’s a libertarian. Which means he subscribes to some pretty far-out ideas, including the belief that freedom and democracy are, in his words, not “compatible.” They’re the kind of ideas that are called provocative when a wealthy person holds them and crackpot when anyone else does.
It’s also the kind of philosophy that writer Ayn Rand, the major influence on libertarianism in the U.S., put forth in the mid-20th century. In her view, successful businessmen were superior beings being assaulted by the lower orders and the welfare state. (Just read Atlas Shrugged–if you can bear it.)
You can see why that would appeal to Thiel, who can happily support homophobes like Kobach while still enjoying the protections that wealth provides. Thiel just wants to blow the current system up altogether. If you want to burn the building down, you might pause to think about the people who live in it, though. For whatever reason, Thiel does not. Perhaps because he’s wealthy enough that he can live wherever he chooses and feels protected from the social discord that inequality is creating in America and around the world.
Thiel is described by friends as generous, intelligent, and thoroughly decent. He is married to a man and is raising two kids. But even parenthood has not seemed to change his radical political views. Kobach is particularly pointed in his hatred of queer families.
Kobach claims same-sex parents are “certainly not good for the kids.” He has also compared marriage equality to drug addiction.
He also said that gay rights groups promote “homosexual pedophilia.”
Maybe Thiel’s lifeline to his campaign will cause Kobach to rethink his views, but we are not holding our breath.
So look for more Thiel investments in the worst candidates the GOP has to offer, the very candidates the GOP will have to banish if the party is ever to rid itself of the rot of Trumpism.
As long as Thiel is bankrolling those kinds of candidates, the rot will continue for a long, long while.