Perhaps because it's the equivalent of what he pays his dog-walker, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel decided to write a last-minute $1.25 million check to Donald Trump's losing presidential campaign, instead of just lighting the cash on fire, or giving it to me. As the New York Times puts it, because they're also confused by the move, "Peter Thiel, true to his reputation as the most contrarian soul in Silicon Valley, is doubling down on Donald J. Trump."
The donation was announced Saturday via a rep for Thiel, and will be a combination of gifts directly to the campaign and to super PACs. This is a reversal of where Thiel stood in late August, post-DNC, when things were last looking less than bright for Trump's bid, when a spokesperson for Thiel was telling reporters that the billionaire Republican delegate had "no plans to donate to or raise money for Mr. Trump." So now that Trump's hopes are seriously fading and at rallies he's doing the equivalent of stomping around his playroom and crying because he refuses to go to bed, why would Thiel, who's made a career of making great bets on tech companies, decide to double down on such a questionable bet?
The Times spoke to an anonymous source close to Thiel who says Thiel is "unfazed" by Pussygate and Trump's well supported past as a giver of unwanted gropes and kisses, and they say Thiel "feels the country needs fixing, and Mr. Trump can do it." Perhaps it's just a from-one-billionaire-to-another understanding that they have, but the timing nonetheless seems strange.
Thiel has been at least publicly quiet about the presidential race since his appearance at the Republican National Convention in July. In that speech, the Paypal co-founder and Facebook board member became the first person ever to come out as gay on the podium at that convention, and he said, "I don't pretend to agree with every plank in our party's platform. But fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline. And nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump."
The investor is estimated to be worth $2.7 billion, and he's now among just a few donors to have made large donations to Trump's campaign, and virtually alone among Silicon Valley's wealthy Quartz points out that that might have something to do with Trump's calls to boycott Apple products, and his attacks on Amazon. Thiel previously donated $2 million to a super PAC supporting Carly Fiorina during the primaries.
And as the Times reminds us, tech companies in general have refused to give to Trump. "By one accounting," the paper writes, "the Trump campaign has raised $300,000 from tech companies; by another, only $19,000."
Update: Facing heightening criticism and calls to fire Thiel, Sam Altman, the president of the startup incubator where Thiel works, Y Combinator, posted a series of tweets Sunday defending Thiel, and saying it would be ridiculous to fire someone for supporting a major party candidate in an election. [h/t: Recode]