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Peter Thiel. Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tech billionaire Peter Thiel is injecting huge sums into some crucial 2022 midterm contests — and drawing fire from Republicans eager to tie their rivals to the GOP's Silicon Valley bogeymen.

Why it matters: Whether he's backing a candidate or being attacked by one, Thiel embodies the present GOP zeitgeist. His brand of nationalist conservatism mimics the party's Trump-era shift. Yet the fortune he's using to bankroll like-minded candidates derives from an industry reviled by much of that base.

  • This dichotomy has produced at least one notable example this year of a candidate publicly attacking Thiel just months after trying to arrange a sit-down with him.

Thiel's $10 million infusion into a super PAC supporting the Ohio Senate bid by "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance represented his first major foray into the 2022 cycle. It also opened up a line of attack.

  • During an interview last week, one of Vance's primary rivals, former Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel, hit Vance for positioning himself against Big Tech while he has "a guy who is on the board of Facebook as his biggest political funder."
  • Mandel declined to name Thiel. He also didn't mention the multiple overtures he himself made to Thiel early in the campaign.
  • Text messages reviewed by Axios show Mandel flagged his candidacy announcement for Thiel and followed up to request meetings with him in February and March. Thiel does not appear to have responded.
  • Additional text messages show Mandel praising Thiel in 2018 over his portrayal in a New York Times profile. "I think by in [sic] large people here in the rust belt agree with you," Mandel wrote.

What they're saying: "While J.D. Vance tries to talk tough on big tech, he depends on their money in every aspect of his life," Mandel campaign manager Scott Guthrie said in an emailed statement.

  • "His campaign is funded by a board member of Facebook, and his personal income from his VC firm comes from the former CEO of Google and former CEO of AOL," Guthrie said. "Ohioans know that J.D. Vance is a Never-Trumper and a phony whose bills are literally paid by big tech."

Last week, the Washington Examiner reported Thiel is putting another $10 million into a super PAC supporting Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, an executive at Thiel's venture capital firm and foundation.

  • While locally branded, Saving Arizona PAC's focus so far appears to be national. Its digital ads are running nationwide and plugging Masters as the candidate who can tilt the Senate majority in Republicans' favor.
  • The group's website domain was registered by James Blair, a Republican consultant and former top aide to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Blair didn't respond to inquiries about his role with the group.

In Missouri, Thiel has put a smaller sum — just $250,000 — into a super PAC backing the Senate bid by state attorney general Eric Schmitt.

  • Thiel also backed Schmitt's predecessor as AG, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), during his 2018 Senate bid.
  • Hawley is now arguably Washington's leading purveyor of the nationalist wing whose ranks Thiel hopes to swell next year.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
56 mins ago - Politics & Policy

GOP senator calls for senility test for aging leaders

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician, told me during an "Axios on HBO" interview that he favors cognition tests for aging leaders of all three branches of government.

Why it matters: Wisdom comes with age. But science also shows that we lose something. And much of the world is now run by old people — including President Biden, 78 ... Speaker Pelosi, 81 ...  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, 70 ... and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 79.

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Technology

Intel CEO blames predecessors for manufacturing woes

Axios on HBO

When it comes to Intel's recent manufacturing problems, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger places the blame squarely on his predecessors — many of whom he notes were not engineers deeply steeped in chip technology, as he is.

Why it matters: Gelsinger has announced a broad plan to reinvigorate Intel by doubling down on manufacturing. However, the strategy depends on the venerable semiconductor giant recovering from recent stumbles.

Marketing to Generation Alpha

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Marketers are pouring money into figuring out the tastes and habits of Generation Alpha — kids born from 2010 through 2024 — who are unprecedented in the extent they're growing up online.

Why it matters: They're weaned on TikTok, Amazon and in-app purchases. They're learning from their millennial parents to hold brands accountable for causes like social justice and sustainability. And no prior age cohort will be as large in size or marketing power.