By Alana Wise
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Billionaire technology investor Peter Thiel, a lightning rod for criticism in Silicon Valley for his support of Donald Trump, predicted on Monday that the movement the Republican presidential nominee has created would carry on even if he loses his bid for the White House on Nov. 8.
“No matter what happens in this election, what Trump represents isn’t crazy, and it’s not going away,” Thiel said in a speech to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington.
Thiel, who announced earlier this month he was donating $1.25 million to help Trump get elected, said the New York businessman was laying the groundwork for “a new Republican Party” that will go “beyond the dogmas of Reaganism.”
Thiel attacked Washington in his remarks, saying its elite insiders were out of touch with ordinary Americans and that Trump was shaking up a system in need of change.
“The truth is, no matter how crazy this election seems, it is less crazy than the condition of our country,” said Thiel.
While it is impossible to predict what will happen to Trump and his followers after the election, Thiel is not alone in his view.
“This will certainly continue after Nov. 8, whether Donald Trump is leading the movement or not,” Republican strategist Alice Stewart said on Monday, arguing that the movement surrounding Trump will have lasting effects on the Republican Party.
“Without a doubt, Trump has tapped into an electorate that has felt like their voices have not been heard in quite some time,” she said, adding that the Republican Party old guard would have to work with followers of Trump’s newer brand of conservatism, regardless of the outcome of the election, if the party is to survive.
Thiel, who was born in Germany and came to the United States as a child, is best known as a co-founder of online payment service PayPal Holdings Inc and an early backer of online social network Facebook Inc.
His support for the real estate developer and reality TV star has made him a target for scorn in liberal-leaning tech circles, especially after his full-throated endorsement of Trump at the Republican National Convention in July.
The only major-name Trump backer in Silicon Valley, Thiel has attracted criticism and some have called for Thiel’s removal from Facebook’s board. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has insisted on Thiel staying, citing the importance of diversity of opinion at the company.
Trump’s tirades against cross-border trade agreements and immigration run counter to the views of most in the U.S. tech industry, which sells its products worldwide and has leaned heavily on talented programmers coming to the United States from overseas.
On Monday, Thiel accused the media of taking too literally many of Trump’s more controversial proposals, including imposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
He also said the comments Trump made about groping and kissing women in a 2005 video that was made public earlier this month were “clearly offensive and inappropriate.”
But Thiel said he and other Trump supporters were voting on policy, not personality. He added that both Trump and White House rival Democrat Hillary Clinton were “imperfect people, to say the least.”
On top of his political views, Thiel has faced a backlash in the media for secretly funding a lawsuit against the online publishing company Gawker Media by former professional wrestler Terry Bollea, known professionally as Hulk Hogan, that ultimately led to the bankruptcy and sale of Gawker.
Thiel on Monday defended his decision to bankroll the suit against the site, which a decade earlier outed Thiel as gay in an article entitled “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.” Thiel said the judicial system was too costly for all but the very rich.
“If you’re a single-digit millionaire like Hulk Hogan, you have no effective access to the legal system,” he said.
Clinton holds a 5-point lead over Trump in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, with the backing of 44 percent of likely voters compared to Trump with 39 percent.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Weber; Editing by Bill Rigby)