How a Peter Thiel employee became one of the most polarizing Senate candidates this year
Meet Blake Masters.
When Donald Trump decisively lost the 2020 presidential election, his expulsion from the White House was hurried along by a slate of Democrats who rode the wake of his exit all the way into the Senate. Among the more unlikely Senate newcomers was former astronaut Mark Kelly, who narrowly defeated ultra-conservative incumbent Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona to fill the seat left open by the late John McCain.
Now, just two years later, Kelly is back on the campaign trail to keep his once-solidly-red state on its slow, if undeniable, pivot toward purple. But should he lose, the seat once held by McCain, perhaps the preeminent standard-bearer for the pre-Trump GOP, will instead go to a man who in many ways is a distillation of the former president’s worst, most toxic traits: obscene wealth, unfettered bigotry, and single-minded pursuit of power for power’s sake.
Meet Blake Masters.
Really, Masters is almost a typical Republican in the year 2022, in that he is an extreme nationalist who has no problem declaring Trump the real winner of the 2020 presidential election. He opposes the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, and he wants to complete Trump’s border wall between the United States and Mexico. On his campaign website he rails about conservative shibboleths like “wokeness” and “Big Tech” while vowing to fight with his “last breath for our constitutional rights and for our way of life.”
At this point in the GOP’s descent into fascism, none of these positions really separate Masters all that much from the pack of Republican heirs to Trump’s poisonous political legacy. But what does make Masters unique is his embrace of extremism — and not just extremist views, but actual extremists.
In particular, Masters has been associated with Andrew Torba, the CEO of the ultra-right-wing social networking platform Gab, which has been a playground for white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and mass shooters. Over the past several years, Torba has become a fixture of the far-right, speaking at white nationalist conventions and appearing on podcasts with Steve Bannon, and he has expressed overt Christian nationalist views and regularly trades in antisemitism and accelerationist rhetoric. When Torba explicitly endorsed Masters’s candidacy, Masters attempted to deny the association, telling the Arizona Mirror: “I’ve never heard of this guy and I reject his support. The reason I’ve never heard of him is because he’s a nobody, and nobody cares about him except the media.” (This, incidentally, was the exact same phrase Masters had used weeks earlier to reject a separate endorsement from a separate neo-Nazi supporter to a separate newspaper.)
As it happens, however, not only had Masters heard of Torba, but the pair have actually schmoozed extensively, according to audio obtained by Jewish Insider, in which Masters empathized with Gab and Torba after the platform was banned from multiple app marketplaces. “That’s obviously super messed up,” Masters opined. (Mic reached out to Masters’s campaign for comment on his relationship with Torba, and the repeated language used in his statements rejecting various endorsements, but did not receive a response.)
For a candidate hoping to make himself palatable for a general election, the Torba situation plays right into a well-documented narrative about Masters: that behind his clean-cut Silicon Valley bona fides, he is every bit the extremist.
Beyond simply espousing the “great replacement” theory that has oozed its way from white nationalist message boards to the crown jewel of prime-time conservative cable news, Masters has condemned critical race theory — a legal academic framework that’s become a conservative stand in for “anything to the left of Richard Nixon” — as being “toxic” and “anti-white racism.” During a podcast recording this spring, Masters declared that America does have a gun violence problem (shocker!) but that it’s “people in Chicago, St. Louis shooting each other. Very often, you know, Black people, frankly.”
As an undergraduate at Stanford, Masters contributed an essay on a website owned by far-right extremist Lew Rockwell, in which he praised a quote from infamous Nazi figure Hermann Goering and uncritically cited antisemitic narratives from bigoted conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin. He later distanced himself from his writings at the time, claiming they were simply his reaction as a 19-year-old to the Iraq war. In 2006, he penned a separate essay for the campus newsletter, arguing against voting in that year’s midterm elections, which he deemed “meaningless” and “economically pointless.” He also did, uh, this, ostensibly to mock “cultural sensitivity,” for a college talent show in 2008:
For more evidence of Masters hoping to temper his views for a general election crowd, look no further than his egregious flip-flop on reproductive health care. Late last month, reporters noticed that Masters had apparently wiped lines saying “I am 100% pro-life” and stating support for “a federal personhood law (ideally a Constitutional amendment) that recognizes that unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed” from his website, possibly in an effort to soften his anti-abortion stance amidst widespread outrage from voters furious over the Supreme Court’s recent striking down of Roe v. Wade.
Around the same time, Masters pulled a similar move in regard to his previous assertion that Trump had won the 2020 election, scrubbing relevant language from his website. It’s the sort of transparent pivot that denotes a total disregard for any semblance of consistency or faith in the electorate. (Mic reached out to the Masters campaign for comment on the changes to his website but did not receive a response.)
The Thiel factor
Underlying all this is the fact that Masters’s political benefactor and professional mentor is none other than Peter Thiel, the infamous Silicon Valley investor and right-wing financier behind many of the same sort of “Big Tech” endeavors Masters claims to oppose, like Paypal and Facebook. After initially meeting Thiel while he was a student at Stanford and Thiel a professor, Masters co-authored a book with Thiel. Thiel later hired Masters as the chief operating officer for his eponymous investment firm; eventually he helped his protegé land a role with the Trump presidential transition team in 2016, thus beginning Masters’s political career in a decidedly MAGA bent.
As it stands now, Thiel and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are currently locked in a battle of wills over who will be the next to step forward to fund Masters. Despite Thiel’s generous financial support during the primary, Masters has found himself woefully lagging behind Kelly’s robust campaign haul. The clash between Thiel and McConnell suggests some deep misgivings from the Republican old guard about Masters’s electability.
Masters, meanwhile, has positioned himself as a sort of far-right Rand Paul, joining the libertarian Kentucky senator in opposing aid to Ukraine to fend off Russia’s imperialist invasion, while seeking to privatize Social Security should he be elected (another issue he’s since backed off from after winning his primary) and opposing vaccine mandates in the midst of a global pandemic.
He’s also just kind of a jerk:
Currently, Masters sits slightly — but not impossibly — behind Kelly in the polls. There’s plenty of time for things to shift in his favor before November. If they do, it’s likely the United States Senate will welcome its most extreme member in decades. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.