By Anna Tong, Alexandra Ulmer and Jeffrey Dastin
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Tech billionaire and Republican megadonor Peter Thiel, an early backer of former President Donald Trump who later broke with him, has told associates he is not planning to donate to any political candidates in 2024, according to two people close to the businessman.
Thiel is unhappy with the Republican Party's focus on hot-button U.S. cultural issues, said one of the sources, a business associate, citing abortion and restrictions on which bathrooms transgender students can use in schools as two examples.
Thiel came to this conclusion by late 2022, the sources said. He believes Republicans are making a mistake in focusing on cultural flashpoints and should be more concerned with spurring U.S. innovation - a major issue for him - and competing with China, the business associate said.
Thiel's plans for the Republican primary and general election have not been previously reported. Online news site Puck previously reported Thiel was most likely either to support Trump or sit out the primary. Thiel declined a Reuters request for an interview.
When Thiel spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention, he had more hope that the party would concentrate on economic issues, his business associate said.
"I am proud to be gay," Thiel said on stage. "But most of all I am proud to be an American. 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."
Four political sources also told Reuters that Thiel is taking a step back from U.S. politics. Thiel, who diverged from his Silicon Valley peers with his embrace of conservative causes, identifies as a supporter of libertarianism, a political philosophy that stresses the importance of individual freedoms.
The German-born entrepreneur has a fortune estimated at around $4.2 billion after co-founding PayPal and Palantir and investing early in Facebook. He has contributed around $50 million to state and federal political candidates and campaigns since 2000, and he was the 10th largest individual donor to either party in the 2022 midterm congressional elections, according to the non-profit OpenSecrets.
Thiel's decision underlines how the Republican Party’s swing to the right on social issues is alienating some prominent, business-minded donors.
Several top donors have said they are hesitant to support Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce a run for the White House soon, after he signed a bill into law that bans most abortions after six weeks in Florida. None said they intended to sit out the entire 2024 election cycle as a consequence.
In 2012, Thiel backed libertarian lawmaker Ron Paul, and in 2016 he donated some $1.25 million to the campaign efforts of Trump, who is the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination.
In 2020, Thiel did not financially back Trump's re-election efforts, according to OpenSecrets. Thiel liked some of Trump's policies while in office but disapproved of the chaos surrounding the former reality TV star's presidency, said one of the sources, who is close to Thiel personally.
In the 2022 election cycle, however, Thiel emerged as a potential Republican kingmaker, contributing more than $35 million to 16 federal-level Republican candidates, according to OpenSecrets. Twelve of those candidates won.
To be sure, Thiel could yet change his mind on political contributions for the 2024 cycle, although both sources familiar with his donation plans said they had heard Thiel declare on multiple recent occasions that he had withdrawn from U.S. politics.
The source who knows Thiel personally said he had cautioned that he could still support candidates who have worked for him, as he did in 2022, when the bulk of his $35 million in donations went to two former colleagues running for the Senate as Republicans: J.D. Vance, who won, and Blake Masters, who lost a race pundits considered winnable even though he received some $20 million from Thiel.
The business associate said he was not aware of any special proviso for former employees.
Thiel is married to businessman Matt Danzeisen, with whom he has two toddlers. Concerns about his family's safety have weighed in Thiel's decision to step back as well, the source who knows him personally told Reuters.
(Reporting by Anna Tong, Alexandra Ulmer and Jeffrey Dastin, Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell)