If President-elect Donald Trump hadn’t already pulled off the greatest comeback in American political history, his transition to power would have a strong case for being his hardest task to date.
In a Washington whose self-appointed tastemakers already view Trump as an unpleasant four-year-long squatter, the task of finding qualified and willing public servants is going to require more than simply the allure of the presidency. Some out-of-the-box thinking of the kind that propelled Trump to become the next leader of the free world will be desperately needed.
Which is why it was such a relief to me to see that Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel has joined Trump’s transition team. Indeed, some reports even suggested that he might lead that team after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s was felled by the Bridgegate scandal. While Vice President-elect Mike Pence appears to have stepped into the role of transition chairman for now, I hope for the sake of Trump’s success—and for the country’s—that another shakeup takes place soon, with Thiel taking the reins.
I say this not out of any malice for Pence, or Christie, or for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), another strong contender for a large role in the new administration. Pence has obviously been a decent and loyal soldier for Trump, and the other two definitely should have a place in Trump’s administration. But when it comes to building that administration from the ground up? Thiel is, quite simply, the perfect candidate for many diverse reasons.
To begin with, Thiel is known first and foremost as a bleeding-edge innovator. It is arguable that he, more than anyone else, personifies the disruptive style of startup-centered business that Silicon Valley has popularized in America.
Indeed, even in Silicon Valley itself, which shamelessly went native in establishment liberal culture, Thiel’s stubborn support of Trump, and his eloquent defense of that support, was a disruptive aberration.
This ethos is desperately needed in shaping the Trump administration’s priorities and makeup. Trump’s campaign for president—from the moment in June 2015 when he descended the escalator—was to conventional political campaigns what Uber was to the taxi industry. Like Uber, Trump’s ragtag band of innovative iconoclasts routed slow-moving, entrenched opponents backed only by the power of inertia and longevity.
Everyone from Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton herself was ultimately subjected to Trump’s brand of political creative destruction. That kind of irreverent approach to the art of politics needs to be reflected in both the policies and personnel of the incoming Trump administration. Who better to ensure that approach continues than the man who has made a fortune investing in its application?
But it’s not just the norms of official Washington and the established political class that Trump will have to disrupt. The president-elect will have to reject systematically their vision of the ideal society, and the political pieties they cling to, as well. In this, Thiel is doubly suited to shape Trump’s administration. Without a strong dissenter from the Washington consensus firmly installed as the head of Trump’s transition, it is easy to see Trump struggling to emancipate himself from tired GOP doctrines like foreign policy neoconservatism, GDP-uber-alles economic libertarianism, sectarian social traditionalism, or even the uncritical secular church of Reagan worship. Particularly if most members of his staff believe in those things.
Thiel has very obviously advertised his belief in none of them. He has long been a skeptic of foreign policy adventurism of the type championed by George W. Bush, and has even made dissenting noises about the uncritical embrace of democracy among political elites. He strongly repudiated kneejerk economic libertarianism in his National Press Club speech by pointing out that economic gains are not unqualified goods when they fail to accrue to most people. He is openly gay, and impatiently dismissed social conservative fixations like the bathroom wars on the floor of the RNC. He scoffed at “government is the problem” style Reaganism as merely a convenient pretext for tax-shy rich people to sabotage government efficacy, while still defending the idea that an effective government needs to be a small one.
Someone with such clearly defined and thought out views on government and society could very easily give Trump’s iconoclastic “Make America Great Again” vision a policy depth that it has sometimes struggled to attain while still remaining true to the nationalist spirit and principles of the Greatness Agenda. Such policy depth would also vastly simplify the task of deciding who should staff the Trump White House. Thiel is the man to do so.
Finally, if Thiel led Trump’s transition, he would bring with him the ability to reach out to groups that have been Trump skeptics so far. Thiel’s bona fides within the libertarian movement could help forge a tentative alliance between the Trump administration and one of the most prickly corners of the Right, effectively cutting off a resurgence of the kind of toxic “liberaltarianism” that flourished during the Bush years.
Thiel might even be capable of mending fences with certain corners of Silicon Valley, given his status as a mentor of Mark Zuckerberg, as well as an unquestionable giant in the tech community. Actually, given that the Trump administration might otherwise take as dim a view of the Valley as the Valley takes of them, Thiel could serve as a peacemaker in general. For Trump officials, he could offer connections and broker peacemaking meetings with the leaders of America’s tech sector—a group whose neutrality could be very important in 2020, given the President-elect’s own reliance on social media. For tech sector leaders themselves, Thiel could be an advocate for pro-innovation policies like reform of the desperately broken patent system (something Trump could very easily back, given its negative effects on traditionally Leftist groups like trial lawyers and university administrators). This sort of advocacy would ensure that the already-beginning stock market boom from Trump administration policies sweeps America’s tech sector along with it, rather than leaving it behind.
In essence, Thiel serves as everything a transition chair should be for Trump: a champion of the president-elect’s disruptive approach to politics, a guardian against ideological creep by the very forces Trump defeated, and a diplomat who could mend fences with groups that Trump might otherwise never have in his corner. For the sake of preserving the Trump imprint on American politics, and on history itself, no man is better suited for the task than the one who risked much and braved all to support him. Without a doubt, that’s Peter Thiel.