One of Donald Trump's presidential delegates is a familiar name in the tech world: investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Yesterday, Thiel's name appeared on a list of pledged California delegates selected by Trump, at this point the presumptive Republican presidential candidate. It's a slightly unexpected move from an outspoken Silicon Valley libertarian, known for investments in everything from a nascent Facebook to an artificial island utopia.
As noted by The Sacramento Bee, Thiel sits alongside a number of prominent Republican politicians, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Representative Darrell Issa. He has a history of donations to GOP candidates, including Ron Paul — in 2012, he gave $2.6 million to a super PAC for Paul. But at the beginning of the election cycle, he seemed more likely to back one of Trump's opponents. He put $2 million into the Super PAC for former HP CEO and Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, and he supported Ted Cruz — Trump's primary rival, until recently — in Cruz's earlier political campaigns.
Trump has a fraught relationship with the tech world
Trump has a particularly fraught relationship with much of the tech industry. His anti-immigration platform, which includes temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States and building a wall on the US–Mexico border, is at odds with organizations like FWD.us, an immigration reform group whose founders include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg, and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. While Facebook has promised to neutrally support an "open dialogue" at the Republican National Convention later this year, Zuckerberg has criticized Trump's politics, calling for an end to "building walls." (Facebook has also been recently accused of leaving conservative news sources out of its Trending Topics section.)
As Wired notes, the clash isn't solely about a conservative candidate versus a largely liberal Silicon Valley. Among other things, Trump has promised to make Apple build its products in the United States, then called for a boycott of Apple products in order to pressure the company into weakening its security for the FBI. He's also suggested "closing" parts of the internet to fight terrorism. They're deeply non-libertarian proposals that are hostile to the way the tech industry — and arguably modern technology itself — functions.
But Thiel's apparent symbolic support for Trump isn't incompatible with the goal of either defeating a Democratic candidate or simply upending the system — something that Ron Paul's campaign implicitly promised. And Thiel has expressed deep doubt about the electoral process itself. Last year, he said that "it's not at all clear that we're living in anything resembling a democracy," calling the US a state run by "very unelected, technocratic agencies." The statement partially disavowed a bolder argument from 2009, when he said he could "no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." Whatever his policies, Trump has certainly promised to override the current political process — even if that requires becoming king of America.