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Photo illustration of Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel may be the most successful venture capitalist of his era, with a resume that spans from Facebook to SpaceX to Airbnb. But no venture capitalist bats 1000, and Thiel's biggest whiff was of much greater consequence than pushing a mediocre app into the market.

Flashback: Just days before Donald Trump's 2016 election, Thiel criticized the media for taking Trump literally rather than seriously, contrasted to Trump voters who took him seriously but not literally.

  • This was not an original framing, as Thiel lifted it from a pre-election column by Salena Zito in The Atlantic.
  • But Thiel's forum (the National Press Club) and his profile (iconoclastic Silicon Valley billionaire) amplified his message far beyond The Atlantic's readership, and helped establish and then cement a viewpoint through which even Trump's most egregious statements were taken at other than face value.

What's come into stark relief, however, is that Trump says what he means and means what he says.

  • We heard it in his call with Georgia's secretary of state, in which Trump made clear that his conspiracy theory was not just for public consumption.
  • We saw it in his reticence to condemn the Capitol insurrectionists, after weeks of telling them to fight.

Thiel, who didn't respond to interview requests, himself gave up on advocating for Trump earlier this year, in the midst of White House mismanagement of the pandemic, not speaking again at the Republican National Convention nor donating in 2020 to Trump's re-election campaign.

  • His fundamental framing of Trump's presidency, however, had already taken root. And far too few Americans, including media members who Thiel had initially critiqued, recognized the flaws in his thesis until it was too late.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

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  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
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  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

Mike Allen, author of AM
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.