Thiel's online influencer investments did nothing to help Masters
Exit polls suggest that Blake underperformed among the New Right avant garde.
Tech oligarch and Peter Thiel ally Blake Masters appears to have lost his campaign for the Senate in Arizona. Thiel invested millions of dollars in Blake’s campaign, including a record $15 million during the primaries alone, and press coverage during the final coverage of the election repeatedly returned to negotiations between Thiel and the GOP to spend even more. As the FEC and reporters tally up the final price tag, however, it’s worth looking at a Thiel investment that probably won’t be factored in: The Rockbridge Network’s online influencer campaign.
Recall that, back in April, the New York Times reported that Thiel and other GOP oligarchs had formed a secretive coalition that set out “to shape the 2022 midterms…often with little disclosure.” By then Rockbridge had already planned to spend $30 million, though since this is dark money we can’t be sure just how much of it came from Thiel. But two things we do know for sure:
First, Rockbridge was laser-focused on Arizona as part of their “red state project”. That’s where they held their first meeting, and Blake Masters was involved, speaking at their Mar-a-Lago meeting in April.
And second, they also launched a “Rockbridge Media Project,” which — as I reported in April — seemed to have a direct connection with Post Left / New Right media. On his podcast, Rockbridge founder Chris Buskirk hosted Masters just 16 days before he launched his 2022 campaign. A short list of his other guests:
Aimee Terese (x2), Oliver Bateman, Darren Beattie, Malcolm Kyeyune (x3), Christopher Rufo, Angela Nagle, Curtis Yarvin, Alex Haschuta, JD Vance, Blake Masters, Anna Khachiyan, Sohrab Ahmari
We will, again, never know for sure where Rockbridge’s influencer money has gone. But as I’ve often argued, the GOP’s modern propaganda machine is often less interested in making specific deals than in creating a job market where influencers will audition for deals. And as Vanity Fair reported in April, that market is clearly up and running:
Thiel has grown increasingly involved in the politics of this younger and weirder world—becoming something like a nefarious godfather or a genial rich uncle, depending on your perspective. Podcasters and art-world figures now joke about their hope to get so-called Thielbucks.
Blake Masters himself has done his part to dangle the possibility of a payoff out in front of the New Right:
I asked [Masters] about the term Thielbucks, and how true it was that the Thiel Foundation was funding a network of New Right podcasters and cool-kid cultural figures as a sort of cultural vanguard…He told me that he and Thiel had met with [Anna] Khachiyan, one of the cohosts of Red Scare. “Which was cool,” he said. “Their podcast is interesting.”
I asked if there was a world in which they might get funding from Thiel. “Maybe, yeah,” he said. “We fund some weird stuff with the Thiel Foundation.”
All of this has been widely reported before, but while there’s a lot we don’t know, one thing is clear: it didn’t pay off for Masters. If Thiel — a famously disciplined and practical political investor — invested a red cent into the media’s New Right scene in the hopes of building a pro-Masters audience, he cannot be happy with the returns.
Let’s compare Masters to two candidates. First, 2022 Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake; this can give us a rough idea of how he compares to other Republicans this year. And second, the GOP’s 2020 candidate for the same Senate seat, Martha McSally: this can show us how he compares to someone running for the same office against the same opponent, Mark Kelly.
And in our comparison, we’re going to focus on a specific demographic: New Right media fans. This means young people, people with college degrees, people from the cities or the suburbs, and people who identify as “independent”. Here are the numbers:
Did a surge of Twitter addicts from Scottsdale with usernames like Nietzschad88 give Masters a 6% bump in suburbs over McSally? Anything’s possible, but the far more likely explanation is that no one outside of the Acela corridor cares about New Right media. If Thiel wants to foot the bill for an insular clique of Dimes Square weirdos to do doggerel poetry reads or throw some seed money at right populist zine #548923 that’s his business, but if he wants to put politicians in office why on earth isn’t he just putting that money into October ad buys?
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