CLEVELAND — Peter Thiel ran to the podium like a dog chasing a truck.
He was about to deliver a line that was new inside the Quicken Loans Arena and ran somewhat counter to a conservative Republican platform. Speaking at a quick clip, frequently licking his lips and flashing a devilish grin, Thiel told the audience: “I am proud to be gay.”
While he rushed through it, almost as if to rip the Band-Aid off, the crowd was unanimously accepting. They roared as he continued: “I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American.”
Thiel, who looks like an aspiring villain with a moon laser in a James Bond movie, also pushed back against a persistent debate within the GOP this year about the rights of transgender people to choose the bathroom that fits their gender identity the best.
“When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won,” Thiel said. “Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?”
In a surprising turn, this also elicited a strong—if somewhat more muted—response. Thiel was doing well; an anomaly in the room who was working the crowd before the king was crowned.
But the enigma that is Peter Thiel revealed itself in his remarks about the better days of the past. The PayPal CEO and co-founder mused about the time in America where he was a young boy.
“Our economy is broken,” the billionaire currently backing Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker said. “If you’re watching me right now, you understand this better than any politician in Washington. And you know this isn’t the dream we looked forward to. Back when my parents came to America looking for that dream, they found it—right here in Cleveland.
“They brought me here as a one-year-old, and this is where I became an American. Opportunity was everywhere.
“My Dad studied engineering at Case Western Reserve University, just down the road from where we are now. Because in 1968, the world’s high-tech capital wasn’t just one city: all of America was high tech.”
But this was dependent on government spending, something that the libertarian Thiel would, in theory, be against. His status as a Trump supporter, and a delegate for the campaign in California, is inherently contradictory in his liberal corner of the world. Yet in the past, Thiel has also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ted Cruz, a staunch conservative who believes in the sanctity of “traditional” marriage.
Then there’s his head-scratching remark from 2009 in which he suggested that democracy was maligned by giving women the right to vote.
“Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron,” Thiel wrote in Cato Unbound.
His financial backing of Hogan’s bankruptcy-inducing lawsuit against Gakwer reflected the billionaire’s opinions about the freedom of the press. It could exist so long as it didn’t malign him—something that almost exactly echoes the opinion of the candidate he endorsed, who files lawsuits as often as he brushes his teeth.
Thiel, who once hosted a party with Trump apologist Ann Coulter, claims that he doesn’t agree with everything the candidate says. But he cannot support Hillary Clinton for her track record on Iraq and Libya.
“Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East,” Thiel said. “We don’t need to see Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails: Her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it’s a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue, Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country.”
Thiel is a contradiction like Trump is. And on the night that the real estate mogul became the Republican nominee, a fellow contradiction was just enough.