Peter Thiel was named as a member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team Friday, a sign of the influence the billionaire tech investor will have in shaping the new administration.
Thiel bucked the liberal leanings of Silicon Valley to support Trump and endured immense backlash from his peers as a result. Now, they will likely need him to act as their most prominent surrogate and advocate on regulatory and policy matters in Washington, industry officials and lobbyists said.
Thiel has not ruled out formal involvement with the incoming administration, said a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Thiel has consistently said since even before Trump was elected that he has no desire for a full-time position in Washington. “I think my future is going to continue to be in the tech industry. That’s what I’m good at. That’s what I enjoy doing,” Thiel said on Oct. 31 at the National Press Club in Washington.
However big his role, Thiel will certainly have Trump’s attention on tech matters. The New York businessman is known to value loyalty, and Thiel served as a vocal supporter in the final months of a divisive campaign. Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention in July, donated $1.25 million to Trump’s campaign in October and convened journalists in Washington last month to explain his support for Trump.
“A page in the book of history has turned, and there is an opening to think about some of our problems from a new perspective,” Thiel told the New York Times after the election. “I’ll try to help the president in any way I can.”
Thiel will be especially important to the industry as Trump’s tech agenda remains largely an open question. Trump’s remarks so far hasn’t given Silicon Valley much reason to celebrate. His opposition to net neutrality and harsh stance on immigration is part of what pushed so many there to support his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Many Silicon Valley leaders would be smart at this point to show a little more tolerance toward the position taken by Peter Thiel in terms of his relationship to and support of Trump. I think it’s safe to say that Thiel made one of the most consequential venture bets in political history,” said Matthew Johnson, a Republican lobbyist who heads the technology, telecom and intellectual property practice at the Podesta Group.
“Time will tell, but that bet should prove to be not just on Peter Thiel’s behalf but on behalf of Silicon Valley as he may emerge as an emissary for the tech industry, for Silicon Valley, and perhaps counter some of the negative feelings that may still be there within the Trump world,” Johnson added.
But the relationship between Thiel and the rest of the tech industry could remain tenuous as well, one industry lobbyist said. Thiel criticized Silicon Valley leaders as being out of touch with the needs of many Americans, saying recently that the industry has conflated its own prosperity with the prosperity of the nation overall.
“Thiel’s disruptive nature may come in handy at helping Trump navigate tech issues, but the question is whether he will have all of tech’s interests, the Bay Area’s interests, at heart when giving his advice,” said a Democratic tech industry lobbyist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the incoming administration.
A tech company official who was not authorized to speak publicly said Trump’s resistance to technology — he reportedly does not use a computer, at least not regularly — means the industry will have to more actively explain and defend its importance than it has under President Obama. So Thiel is likely to become a critical conduit to Trump for the industry, the official said.
Staff writer Brian Fung contributed to this report.
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