Billionaire investor and Trump megadonor Peter Thiel praises Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as 'the best of the governors' for offering 'a real alternative to California'

·5 min read
Billionaire investor Peter Thiel (L) praised Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a speech at the National Conservatism Conference.
Billionaire investor Peter Thiel (L) praised Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a speech at the National Conservatism Conference.J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo and Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
  • Thiel said Republicans need to do more than point to problems in liberal states like California.

  • Of all GOP governors, DeSantis was the one doing it right, Thiel said.

  • But he added that he worried about soaring housing prices in the Sunshine State.

AVENTURA, Florida — Billionaire investor Peter Thiel on Sunday said he feared Republicans were too focused on bashing liberal states such as California, when they should instead be offering a "positive agenda" for the future of the party.

In a speech delivered at the National Conservatism Conference, Thiel painted a bleak picture of his home state of California and said at least one governor was going about alternative policymaking the right way: Florida's Ron DeSantis.

"DeSantis in Florida is probably the best of the governors in terms of offering a real alternative to California," Thiel said, speaking before a crowd of attendees at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort.

But Thiel also had one major disclaimer, saying that he worried about how expensive housing in Florida had become. Thiel said he bought an $18 million home in Miami in 2020 that was now worth about $35 million. A test for the state's policies, he said, would be whether housing prices fall.

"The fact that real estate in Florida or Texas has melted up over the last two or three years is not evidence that you're succeeding and building a better model than California," he said. "I'm worried that that's evidence that you're becoming like California."

Housing prices are among the top issues Democrats are weaponizing against DeSantis as he seeks reelection in November. The state has faced an influx of residents since the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed to rising costs.

DeSantis has pushed through numerous policies as governor that have drawn the ire of the left, including policies on abortion, voting rights, and limiting the way race, gender, and sexuality are discussed in schools.

DeSantis also faced his fair share of tussles with California. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has criticized the governor and has run ads attacking him in Florida. The dispute led to speculation that the two could potentially face off in the 2024 presidential race if they both decided to run for their respective parties' nominations.

Thiel cofounded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, the company now known as Meta. He was one of former President Donald Trump's most outspoken supporters and has criticized Silicon Valley, relocating to Los Angeles in 2018. 

On Sunday, Thiel said during his remarks that his "intuition" told him that Republicans' "nihilistic negation" wouldn't suffice in creating an alternative vision for growth.

"The temptation on our side is always going to be that all we have to do is say that we're not California," he said. "It is just such an ugly picture, the homeless poop, people pooping all over the place, it's the ridiculous rat-infested apartments that don't work anymore, it's the woke insanities, there's so much that it feels like shooting fish in a barrel. It's so easy, so ridiculous to denounce."

The question Republicans should be asking, he said, was: "How can we concretely offer a vision for the 21st century that's better than California?"

Bashing California "might be enough to win in the midterms in '22," Thiel said, "It might be enough to win in '24. But we want to have more of a program positive vision, something like that to be credible."

Thiel raised concerns about the 2022 cycle, saying Republicans weren't doing as well as during the Tea Party swell in 2010, or in 1994 when then-Minority Whip Newt Gingrich presented the GOP agenda in the form of the Contract for America. 

Thiel didn't raise any specific senators by name, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has not offered an agenda for the party ahead of the 2022 midterms, while National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Rick Scott of Florida has, in the form of an "11-point Plan to Rescue America."

Several news articles have indicated there's a rift between the two GOP leaders. But Scott, in a letter to supporters, accused the media of trying to "divide and defeat Republicans."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, bashed Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's record in California.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, bashed Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's record in California.Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

DeSantis hasn't received a campaign donation from Thiel, records show

As of May 2022, Thiel had an estimated net worth of $7.19 billion and was ranked 297th on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Though Thiel praised DeSantis on Sunday, he has not given to the governor's reelection efforts, according to a disclosure document from his political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, and campaign finance disclosures from the State Division of Elections. The DeSantis campaign declined to comment on campaign donations.

DeSantis has become one of the most famous Republicans in America and has raised more than $140 million for his reelection bid, an extraordinary sum for a governor's race. The money puts him on track to break a national fundraising record.

GOP Senate candidates and Thiel protégés Blake Masters and JD Vance each received $15 million. Thiel was also one of Trump's biggest donors when he ran in 2016, and this cycle has donated to at least 14 other MAGA-aligned House and Senate candidates. Thiel, who is openly gay, has also donated to politicians who have backed anti-LGBTQ rights policies.

Asked by Insider at NatCon whether Thiel should donate to DeSantis' campaign, Masters replied, "Sure." 

In mid-August, DeSantis campaigned with Masters and GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in Arizona. Masters said he hadn't yet caught up with DeSantis at the conference — the governor isn't expected to speak until Sunday evening.

"I think he's great," Masters said when asked about the impact DeSantis had on the Republican Party. But Masters didn't offer a direct answer on whether he thought DeSantis should run for president in 2024.

"We'll see what he chooses to do," Masters said.

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