The decade's most triggering comedy
In July, 35-year-old Blake Masters, who is Chief Operating Officer of Thiel Capital and president of The Thiel Foundation, announced his candidacy for Senate in Arizona.
Should Masters win the Republican primary next August, he will face off against Democratic Senator Mark Kelly in November 2022. According to a third-quarter Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filing, Masters has raised more than $1.1 million.
On Monday, I had the opportunity to speak with Masters about a variety of topics, including big tech, border security, the future of the U.S., election integrity, and so much more.
Below is the full interview (which you can listen to via the SoundCloud embed, or read via the provided transcript).
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and why you decided to jump into politics now?
MASTERS: Sure. Well, I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and actually met my wife in middle school here. And, you know, was in Tucson through high school, went to Stanford and Stanford Law School, after which I started to work in Silicon Valley, I published a book on startups and entrepreneurship with Peter Thiel, and then started working with him. I run his family office now. But I moved back to Arizona from California in late 2017, by mid- 2018, I was back in Arizona full time. And so I had this, I guess, front row seat to watching both Arizona Senate seats flip blue, which was crazy. I don’t need to tell you how crazy that is. It doesn’t reflect where the state is at. And so, you know, I’ve gotten to do a whole lot in my career, and I really enjoy what I do now, but as soon as Mark Kelly won in 2020, or was declared the winner, I knew that he was going to be bad. You know, we have a 50/50 Senate right now, and I think once the Democrats actually get control, implement their agenda, right, court packing and adding new states to the union and federalizing elections, I think America’s over, frankly, and so it feels like the most important thing that I could be doing right now is to dive in, because I know I can take the Senate seat back from Mark Kelly and from the Democrats.
Q: So there are already seven candidates, not including yourself, in the primary, including, I guess, arguably the most high profile in Mark Brnovich. What makes you the best candidate to take on Mark Kelly?
MASTERS: Well, I think we’re gonna have to throw something new at the Democrats here; no more cookie cutter candidates or people who are just conventional and running conventional candidacies. I don’t think Mark Brnovich is the worst attorney general; I can think of some worse ones. I don’t think he’s the best; I can think of a lot better. And almost by definition, like, you throw a mediocre politician, a mediocre attorney general, at an incumbent Democrat, when the Democrats really want to keep the Senate, and I think he’ll get crushed. You see it in the grassroots. There’s zero excitement for Brnovich, whereas I’m only gaining; people are excited for fresh blood, someone with fresh perspectives, someone who can articulate conservative and correct ideas, but in a way that’s actually going to reach young people and reach moderates in Arizona. Someone with a live mind who’s actually paying attention and is willing to give people something other than consultant-provided talking points. You also see it in fundraising numbers. I’m by far out-fundraising everybody else in this race; I raised a million bucks last quarter, which is a modest start relative to Mark Kelly, but it’s also almost double what Brnovich was able to raise, and he’s a seven year sitting attorney general. There’s just no excitement behind his candidacy; there’s excitement behind mine. Because people understand if you run the conventional playbook, you will lose. And that’s something we can learn from President Trump on. You’ve got to be bold and run on issues that matter, and run an unconventional and unafraid campaign.
Q: So arguably, the most prominent issue in Arizona is the border. It’s in crisis, and the Biden administration won’t do anything about it. Many Republicans also don’t seem to care, either because they’ve been lobbied by businesses who want cheap labor or because it’s an easy vote-driving issue that they don’t want to lose for the next election. Do you have any plans as a senator that would actually move the needle? And how would you accomplish those plans?
MASTERS: I think day one is introducing or joining legislation to finish the border wall. I’ve actually been down to the border wall and it’s well built, it’s impressively engineered, it’s tall. People are not just going to easily climb over this thing. It would work if you didn’t have all these gaps, right, where the cartels know to go. So if you imagine actually finishing that wall, and you double or triple the size of border patrol, right — those guys need more boots on the ground, frankly, they need to be paid more — and then you arm them, you equip them with the technology they actually need to do their job. All of a sudden, 90% to 95% of the border crisis goes away. It really is that simple. It’s not — you don’t need a whole lot of innovative policy solutions. You just need the political will and the numbers to get it done.
Q: We’ve heard a lot over the last couple of years about the dangers of big tech. Despite numerous hearings with tech companies during which Republicans and Democrats bluster, not much seems to have been done. There are some people who want to eliminate Section 230, others who want to refine it, and still others who believe that anti-trust is the answer. These avenues seem insufficient to me. What are your plans, as someone who has a better understanding of the tech sector, to do something about big tech?
MASTERS: Yeah, I think we can start there, you know, Section 230. Great. Let’s radically reform it or strip the protection from liability from these companies; if they want to act like publishers, we’ll treat them like publishers, right? You don’t get platform immunity if you’re actually putting your thumb on the scale and censoring content and acting like a publisher. I think that’s fairly straightforward to do. But I would agree with you, that’s way too little. Then you move on to something like anti-trust, right? Facebook is going to be this giant multinational corporation; if they’re going to actively intervene in elections, either because their founder is spending $400 million, you know, to distribute to various nonprofits in obvious partisan fashion — and then Facebook itself is censoring information about Joe Biden, about Hunter Biden in the weeks before the election. Unclear that any company should be able to have that much power. I don’t think you get to swing elections because you’re a giant multinational corporation. And so it’s unclear to me that Facebook should be allowed to have Facebook classic and Instagram and WhatsApp — and own these discrete businesses that each efficiently mine all this data about people to roll it up into one central location just so it can turn around and use that data against people to serve them targeted advertising. I think there’s a lot there to look into. And Republicans have a rich history of anti-trust, right? Barry Goldwater knew this, going back to Theodore Roosevelt knew this; corporate concentration of power can violate people’s liberties just as much as government can, if you let it get out of hand. And so I think anti-trust is on the table. Do I think that is enough to solve the problem? Maybe not; maybe we have to go a lot further. I would like more visibility into some of the algorithms that these companies use. We know what Facebook did in the 2020 election, and that’s bad enough. But we know because their censorship was transparent. I really worry about Google, and their search engine algorithms, which are not transparent. You don’t have access to them. I don’t know how they change them. The government doesn’t know how they may or may not change those algorithms in the weeks before an election. But you could imagine if they’re subtle enough — could they boost pro-Biden content and suppress pro-Trump content? Absolutely, they could. They’ve got the motive; they’ve got the opportunity. And I don’t think we have eyes on the problem. So, I think we’ve got to put everything on the table, and understand if we don’t get ahold of big tech, we’re not going to have free and fair elections in this country, we’re not going to have a First Amendment in this country going forward.
Q: So regarding the liability in Section 230, is there a chance that if these companies are treated as publishers rather than platforms, they then move to purge their systems of any content that isn’t left-leaning?
MASTERS: Yeah … I mean, if they did that, I don’t think they’d be able to maintain the massive network effect that they have. If Facebook just wants to become transparently left-wing, I think its user base would shrink dramatically. The danger is, it is the monopoly, it is the only game in town, and they pretend to be neutral while at the same time censoring conservatives so that you can’t even get an alternative built, right? These network effects are very powerful. If you start treating them as publishers, make them liable for the content that they’re hosting, I think they basically wouldn’t do what you just suggested. I don’t think they want to become some left-wing online ghetto. Facebook only works as a business if everybody’s on Facebook.
Q: What are your thoughts on how the Biden administration is handling the China-Taiwan tensions, with Antony Blinken [recently] refusing to say that the U.S. would defend Taiwan?
MASTERS: I think it’s so ham-handed, like they don’t know what they’re doing. And it’s shameful and embarrassing. It’s obvious to me that the Chinese Communist Party had a point of view on who ought to win in 2020. They preferred Biden; they did not want Trump. They found Trump hard to predict. They found that Trump was the first president and decades, frankly, who stood up to China, who wasn’t naive about the Chinese threat. Meanwhile, I think Biden as recently as a few years ago was saying, “Come on, man. China’s never gonna catch up to us.” Meanwhile, China literally has more warships now than the United States Navy does. They’re newer and in better shape and more technologically advanced. So, we’re in a tough spot. This is a weak administration. They’re weak in foreign policy. Trump knew what Reagan knew: Peace through strength. That’s the way to go about it. Trump also just was willing to say China’s the number one threat. And yeah, it may be, it may be hard, but like, we’re gonna defend Taiwan. And China has to hear that, otherwise … China is salivating at taking Taiwan right now. China looks at the debacle in Afghanistan, and the Biden administration’s weakness and incompetence, and they’re emboldened by it. So when China looks ahead at 2024, and they say, “Man, we’re likely to get Trump back in office, or if Trump chooses not to run, maybe we get DeSantis.” Either of those presidents, they know, would be a lot tougher on China. So, if you’re China right now, if you’re Xi, you’re thinking, “I’ve got this window in the next year or so.” And I think Blinken’s incompetence and Biden’s weakness enables them.
Q: So with the development of hypersonic tech on China’s part, and our own forces seeming content to focus on diversity and inclusion agendas, do you think there’s any particular legislation you would push to make the U.S. more competitive with a growing China?
MASTERS: Well, we need a Republican president in office, then a Republican Congress, but you’ve got to clean house in the military. Like, we cannot have these left-wing generals in charge. These people have gotten promoted, not by winning wars — because they haven’t won wars in a long time at this point, you know, U.S. generals, at least above a two star — they get promoted for giving politically correct PowerPoint presentations, or approving diversity recruitment ads. Meanwhile, China is deadly serious about developing new technology and achieving new levels of lethality and effectiveness in their military. So, it’s not just one piece of legislation; it’s a whole project to reform fundamentally the U.S. military, get it back into fighting shape. Used to be — and I know we still have a lot of great assets, a lot of great people in the military — but the leadership is frankly piss poor. It’s embarrassing. You got General Milley up in front of Congress testifying about reading Lenin and Marx, and he wants to understand white rage. Meanwhile, absolute debacle in Afghanistan, complete embarrassment on the international stage, China’s rising, you’ve got Blinken, who can’t even admit it. So it’s really bad. It’s more of a cultural project, I think. Starting out with things like Tom Cotton’s proposed bill to ban Critical Race Theory and all the analogs, you know, social, emotional, whatever diversity training in the military, that’s a good start. First, you’ve got to get rid of the, sort of, left-wing rot. And then it’s going to be a little bit longer of a project to rebuild.
Q: The COVID-19 vaccine mandates are coming into place on December 8 for federal contractors, November 22 for federal workers. What is your position on vaccine mandates? And what would you do about them, assuming they continue into 2023?
[This question was asked prior to the mandate from the Biden administration regarding companies with 100 or more employees]
MASTERS: I’m totally against them. I think, you know, what Biden is trying to do is the precise opposite. I think that no large company should be allowed to mandate the vaccine. There’s probably all sorts of existing federal health privacy laws on the books that can be consulted and engaged to protect people’s individual rights on this, and where they’re insufficient, we should have new laws that prohibit certainly the federal government, probably state governments, from forcing people to take the vaccine. If we allow this, does it stop with the COVID-19 vaccine? And the answer is obvious. It does not. It’s such a power grab by the government, such a violation of people’s individual rights, and it’s really hard to stomach.
Q: Your position on education seems pretty clear. “Stand up to the teachers unions, support school choice in all its forms, and defend homeschoolers,” like it says on your campaign website. Do you have any specific ideas in mind that would help education in these ways without further federalizing the issue?
MASTERS: I mean, like you said, I believe in decentralization of education. I don’t believe that D.C. should be making education policy. I think parents are the ultimate experts here. And my policy innovation here is to really support homeschooling. I think homeschooling is, you know, this sort of logical extension of school choice. School choice shouldn’t just be about public or private or charter — but I think you’ve got to throw homeschooling in there. And parents, you know, who they pay tax dollars to support education, if they opt out of the system because their local public school is horrible, and they want to homeschool, I think they ought to be able to get a large chunk of their education dollars back so that they can basically set up their own school — and it’s not always just one parent teaching kids in one house. People are, in the wake of this pandemic, people are starting their own pods, their own micro schools, religious communities are coming together and saying, “Hey, we know how to educate our kids a lot more than the local public school, or even private school alternatives.” And so I think when it comes to education, it’s just massive decentralization. Federal policy should support that; we should support parents; some of the parents know what they’re doing here, far more than any bureaucrat does.
Q: What do you see as the United States’ greatest existential threat?
MASTERS: It’s tempting to say something exogenous like China, but I actually think it’s just sort of an internal culture of complacency and decline, which I think tracks left-wing politics really well — it’s, if we just let ourselves become sort of unmotivated, resentful, you know, to get too resentful about [how] things aren’t perfect, so therefore, everything needs to be thrown out — that’s the way the Left looks at the country. And we’re teaching this in schools; you’re raising entire generations of kids to be resentful, and entitled, have a victim mindset, you know, your country was founded by evil racists, and therefore everything is bad. And I think that mentality, writ large, is ruining the country, and I think it will ruin it. We’ve got to get back into sort of a rugged individualism, but there’s also this more collective vitality. It’s like, no, America is the best country that’s ever existed. It’s also, in its present form, the least racist country that’s ever existed. People who travel actually know this. And our history is not perfect. Obviously, the country’s not perfect now — but the Founders knew this, and that’s why they built a system to help us work toward an ever more perfect union, right? You’re supposed to make it better and better every year with every successive generation. And so you can’t fall victim, I think, to this left-wing cultural attitude, that everything’s bad, nothing’s worth working hard for, everyone’s a victim. That just doesn’t work. And so I think we’re in a real spiritual battle here. Which point of view is going to dominate?
Q: What do you see on the horizon in terms of election integrity? I know, and obviously, in 2020, setting aside any claims of fraud, there were a lot of changes prior to the election, such as mass mail-in voting and election law changes in Pennsylvania, etc. And now the Democrats are pushing formerly HR 1, now their new bill, which is basically the same thing. What is your take on what the challenge is facing the country as it pertains to election integrity, and how Republicans and conservatives can push back?
MASTERS: Well, I think we’ve got to get rid of all these changes that they made, the changes to allow sort of unlimited mass mailings of mail-in ballots. Allegedly, it was for COVID, and this is an emergency, and we’ve got to make it easier for people to vote. And actually, you know, maybe some of that was sincere, but a whole lot of it, I think, was just cynical and partisan. And the Democrats knew that it played to their advantage, which is why they want things like automatic registration, automatic mass mailing of mail-in ballots. We’ve got to return to how it was before, and we should probably even tighten it up even more — like I think states should move back to voting systems where you have Election Day instead of election season. It’s a really weird concept to have an election take three months. People who are voting in person on Election Day are voting with different information than the people who voted two months prior to that with mail-in ballots — but I think there was so much that was messed up about the 2020 election; I think mail-in ballots had a lot to do with it. And, you know, mail-in ballots don’t work in a low trust society, especially when the Democrats will fight tooth and nail to make sure there’s no voter ID requirements with the mail-in ballots; it’s just signature verification, which is a lot looser and more prone to abuse than actually, you know, enclosing a copy of your driver’s license. So I think state legislatures need to work really hard to tighten up all these voting laws. I think there’s a lot you can do at the federal level, too, like, the Constitution says that states must have, the government will will guarantee to the states a republican form of government. And it’s unclear to me, if you have states violating your own state constitutions to mass mail ballots with no voter ID, it’s unclear where it stops becoming a republican form of government. But maybe we should have, like, a federal voter ID law that says, states, you run your own elections, localities, you run your own elections, but everyone who votes has to show a valid state or federal ID. I think that’s on the table.
Q: Is there something we haven’t touched on in this interview that you think is important for our readers/listeners to know about your campaign and the state of things?
MASTERS: Yeah, I mean, look, I think just generally, we’re at a huge crossroads here. Now, everyone always says, “This election is the most important election of our lifetimes, blah, blah, blah.” Maybe historically, it has been, but this election, 2022, really will make or break America. The Democrats tell us what they’re going to do if they take power. They will federalize elections, they will pack the Supreme Court, they will add Puerto Rico and D.C. to the union — not because they care about Puerto Rico — because they care about the two Senate seats they would get; they just want to have a lock on power. And so progressivism, it’s not that different from old style, you know, Bolshevism in terms of what’s actually happening behind the scenes. It looks a little different; this is more modern, right? It’s not 1917 anymore. But the progressive mindset, the progressive political project is about shoring up absolute power and absolute control. And so I think 2022, 2024, if we get the right kind of Republicans running and winning, then we can actually have a good American future. If not, I think this country is over. I think it ceases to exist in the sort of continuous fashion since our Founders; I think that grand experiment will be over. So I just want to communicate to people that’s why I’m running. Certainly, I think the stakes are existential. And there’s a lot to be grateful for, there’s a lot to fight for still, and I think we can win.