Dan Morain

Peter Thiel won’t save the California Republican Party

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016. It was revealed this week that he holds dual citizenship in New Zealand.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016. It was revealed this week that he holds dual citizenship in New Zealand. Associated Press file

We probably can count out Peter Thiel as the California Republican Party’s savior.

On Jan. 14, Politico “scooped” California scribes with the unbelievable story that Thiel, the Donald Trump-supporting, Facebook-PayPal libertarian billionaire “is considering a 2018 bid for California governor, according to three Republicans familiar with his thinking.”

“Thiel, who is worth an estimated $2.7 billion, would fill an important need: the ability to self-fund,” the story said.

Thin though the story was, some other publications picked it up, this one not included. Thiel would be a great candidate, the thinking went. He is smart, sophisticated and blessed with a golden touch, having had the foresight to be one of the few Silicon Valley moguls who was all-in for Trump.

Thiel was a Trump delegate from California who donated $1.25 million to help him win, and gave a stirring speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, decrying income inequality, high college tuition, government incompetence and false culture wars.

Most notably, he proclaimed: “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American.”

Or, American-ish.

Thiel, it turns out, has held citizenship in New Zealand since 2011, reporters on the other side of the international date line found. Evidently, he’s one of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who, as detailed by The New Yorker, are preparing for the apocalypse by buying property in the land of the Hobbits.

It’s understandable why preppers are all in with the Kiwis. It’s a great country with a lovely coastline, stunning mountains and nice people who like excellent beer. Parts of it look like Point Reyes, without all the people.

But as the first week of the Trump administration careens to its close, I can’t get over the notion that many voters were conned.

Trump has called for an investigation into voter fraud. And his chief political adviser, Treasury secretary nominee and a daughter are each registered in two locations. The president announced he is building a Mexican border wall. And after The New Zealand Herald broke the story of Thiel’s citizenship this week and of his purchase of a 477-acre piece of prime farm and lakefront property on South Island, members of the New Zealand Parliament demanded to know how Thiel gained citizenship, which is not particularly easy down there.

Prime Minister Bill English responded by saying Thiel had “demonstrated his commitment” to New Zealand the old-fashioned way; he gave $1 million to the Christchurch earthquake fund.

“New Zealand is a better place with Mr. Thiel as a citizen,” English was quoted as saying.

It’s impossible to know whether Thiel is moving to New Zealand permanently, or stowing his money over there, although he apparently is quite a fan of “Lord of the Rings,” having named his various investment funds after images from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy books.

I tried reaching Thiel by calling his San Francisco investment house, which referred me to his press spokesman, Jeremiah Hall, who refused to discuss Thiel’s citizenship or any run for governor.

In the age of Trump, old rules of politics may no longer apply. But a New Zealand citizen is hardly what the California Republican Party will need in 2018. The party’s registration sits below 28 percent in California, and voters here gave Hillary Clinton 4.2 million more votes than Trump, not much less than the entire population of Thiel’s chosen other country.

“It is part of the continuing disconnect of wealthy people in this country,” said Wayne C. Johnson, a Republican strategist in town. “There is a real separation and class consciousness that is untypical of Americans.”

Sure, Trump gave campaign money to his opponents, and that didn’t stop him from running for president against those same rivals. But Thiel donated $56,400 to the front-runner for governor in 2018, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

And in November, Thiel gave $300,000 to Proposition 64, the initiative promoted by Newsom that will commercialize recreational marijuana. Through his investment funds, Thiel has put money into the cannabis business.

California did have a dual-citizen governor not too long ago. But Arnold Schwarzenegger came by his Austrian citizenship by birth. Thiel hasn’t exactly renounced citizenship by becoming a dual citizen of New Zealand. But he certainly appears to be hedging his bets against the country where he made billions.

Imagine the slogan: America – er, New Zealand – I mean, California First. Fits nicely on a bumper sticker.