Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire and outspoken Donald Trump supporter, is considering a 2018 bid for California governor, according to three Republicans familiar with his thinking.
Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, has been discussing a prospective bid with a small circle of advisers, including Rob Morrow, who has emerged as his political consigliere.
Morrow has worked at Clarium Capital, the San Francisco-based investment management firm and hedge fund that Thiel started.
Those who have been in touch with the 49-year-old entrepreneur are skeptical that he’ll enter the race. He is a deeply private figure, and California is unfriendly territory for a Republican – particularly a pro-Trump one. The president-elect won just over 30 percent of the vote there.
But they add that Thiel has conspicuously yet to rule out a bid and that those around him continue to discuss it.
Adding fuel to the speculation: Thiel raised eyebrows this week when he granted a rare interview to the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. In the interview, he outlined his political worldview and explained his support for Trump.(At one point, Thiel said, perhaps jokingly, that he’d be “fine” with California seceding. “I think it would be good for California, good for the rest of the country. It would help Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign,” he added.)
Neither Thiel nor a representative responded requests for comment.
Thiel, who delivered a primetime speech at last summer’s Republican National Convention, isn’t entirely new to the political scene. According to public filings, he has contributed over $8.5 million to federal candidates and committees since 2000. He speaks frequently with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the most powerful Republican in California.
Other Trump backers are exploring bids for political office, too. Alan Cobb, who was a Trump campaign aide, is seen as a top contender for the Kansas congressional seat that GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo would vacate should he be confirmed as CIA director.
Whether Thiel pulls the trigger or not, Republicans in the Trump era are expecting a sizable number of business-minded political outsiders to wage 2018 bids for office. They include Randy Boyd, a wealthy Tennessee executive and minor league baseball team owner who is expected to run for governor in the state.
“Republicans have had great success at both the state and federal level in recent years electing candidates who had backgrounds in business, but who were political outsiders,” said Phil Cox, a former Republican Governors Association executive director. “With Trump's victory, we're going to see even more non-traditional candidates, with backgrounds in business, not politics, enter the political arena.”
Thiel, who is worth an estimated $2.7 billion, would fill an important need: The ability to self-fund. Waging a gubernatorial bid in California, where campaigns are famously expensive, could cost over $100 million.
He isn’t the only billionaire who may run. Environmentalist Tom Steyer, a prolific giver to Democratic causes, is also seen as a possible contender.
With Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown term-limited, several high-profile Democrats including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and state Treasurer John Chiang have already launched campaigns.
One hurdle for Thiel might be his past support for Newsom. In July 2015, according to California election records, he contributed over $56,000 to Newsom’s 2018 campaign.