The Arizona GOP Senate primary is quickly approaching. On August 2, Republican voters will decide who will face off against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly for the crucial swing state seat. Leading in polls is the young outsider, bestselling author and Silicon Valley businessman Blake Masters. Masters has taken the pro-Trump, populist lane in the contest, which also features Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and solar industry veteran Jim Lamon.
A high school standout and awkward teenager, Masters adopted outlandish libertarian views and held them throughout undergrad at Stanford University. It took him until his time at Stanford Law School to grow out of his libertarian phase. At law school, he was quickly in awe of tech billionaire Peter Thiel in a Stanford class titled “Sovereignty, Technology, and Globalization.” Afterwards, Masters enrolled in another class taught by Thiel intended for computer science undergraduates. The thorough notes Masters took eventually became the bestselling entrepreneurship guide Zero to One.
In large part due to Thiel’s influence, Masters moved past his libertarian phase and came to believe that conservatives can use government to promote their values and build domestic industry. His platform expresses support for industrial policies that promote domestic manufacturing, skepticism towards free trade, investments in nuclear power, going after big tech, strong border protections, and opposition to foreign misadventures. Masters even put out a campaign ad expressing his belief that families should be able to prosper on a single income. When it comes to social issues, entitlements, regulations, education, and guns, he holds more conventional Republican stances.
Masters was boosted to the top of the crowded field after receiving former Donald Trump’s endorsement. In making his endorsement, Trump emphasized Masters’ support for his claims that the 2020 was rigged as well as his commitments to strong border protections. Trump even appeared with Masters in a campaign ad where he directly criticized the other candidates. While Trump’s backing has undoubtedly played a major role, there are certainly other reasons for Masters’ appeal. His intriguing profile, innovative platform, and robust campaign operation could all be convincing to an undecided conservative voter.
Masters’ noticeable departure from conservative orthodoxy on a range of issues and the merits of his policy platform has generated some interest from the commentariat. A November 2021 piece on Bari Weiss’ Substack dubbed Masters and likeminded Ohio GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance as “Republican class warriors” for their populist strain. The Washington Post described him as a mix of “economic populism, nationalism, and conservative social values” inspired by Trump’s style.
Nonetheless, the liberal engagement with Masters has primarily been through the lens of his close ties to Peter Thiel and Donald Trump. A multitude of articles casting Masters as a puppet of a villainous, shady billionaire in Thiel have come out in liberal publications. When not focused on Thiel, they look at the unproven election claims Masters made when courting Trump’s endorsement and his prominent activity on Twitter. Additionally, liberal journalists have taken a fascination with Masters’ popularity with the online right. Plenty of very online conservatives have been drawn to Masters’ mixture of a nationalist platform, enormously successful career, and personal charisma. Their fascination with Masters stems in part from some strange intellectual inspirations beyond Peter Thiel. Among them are the monarchist blogger Curtis Yarvin and the Unabomber Manifesto. Nowhere on his public campaign platform does Masters invoke the ideas put forward by either of them. Focusing on Thiel, Trump, and online behavior creates easy narratives for liberals seeking to stoking fear of the opposition. What’s also present is a deeper inability for liberals to fully understand Masters or the burgeoning strain of conservatism he represents.
Within the right of center, conservatives are battling over long-held positions, first principles, and the policy agenda of the future after Donald Trump’s presidency. The Masters Senate campaign and Peter Thiel’s political spending are at the core of the nationalist conservative project inspired by Trump’s 2016 campaign. Instead of exploring the fascinating intra-party battle represented by the Arizona GOP primary and the bold challenges Masters makes to the GOP establishment, they have fixated on repetitive warnings that Masters is a dangerous ideologue.
Their toothless searches for labels to place on Masters and refusal to engage with his policy positions demonstrates liberals’ difficult task in simplifying a complex figure to fit a narrative. This reflects the liberal misunderstanding of a more populist right common in profiles of other like-minded conservatives from Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Inconceivable to them is a conservative ecosystem full of vibrant intellectual sparring and contested political battles playing out in real time. The unique rise of Blake Masters through institutions and industries at the pinnacle of elite society makes his ardent conservatism even more incomprehensible for Democrats who can reliably assume elites are on their side.
The Masters campaign in Arizona poses a major test for the political viability of the growing New Right within the GOP. As the Arizona GOP Senate primary approaches, liberal media stories generating fear around Blake Masters are likely to be in abundance. What’s less clear is whether the media will figure him out in time for a general election against Mark Kelly.
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