Why Peter Thiel Will Probably Pass on California Governor’s Race

After resigning myself to the very real possibility of a Gubernatorial contest with two Democrats (California implemented top two voting back in 2012), my DMs filled up with a hot scoop from Politico’s Alex Isenstadt:

Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire and outspoken Donald Trump supporter, is considering a 2018 bid for California governor, according to three Republicans familiar with his thinking.

Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, has been discussing a prospective bid with a small circle of advisers, including Rob Morrow, who has emerged as his political consigliere.

Like most “some people say” stories, this Thiel4CA Test Balloon is lightly tethered to a ground covered in nails. Isenstadt spoke with enough of Thiel’s colleagues to throw a lot of cold water on his own scoop, and reminds readers that the state went overwhelmingly to Hillary Clinton last year. Donald Trump lost Orange County, which hadn’t gone to the Democrats in a Presidential year since 1964, and simply dropped off the radar in most of the state. Trump’s performances in counties that voted for W just twelve years ago- San Diego, Fresno, Riverside, San Bernardino- were weak enough to threaten the few remaining Republican incumbents on the ballot.

Mr. Thiel certainly has the money needed to run, and any endeavor here would be an expensive one: current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has almost $12 million on hand, and both former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Treasurer John Chiang have raised several million too. The advertising markets here are expensive and he will need a substantial ground operation to register and turn out voters, as the Republican Party here is practically a shell of its former self.

Of course, the Democratic candidates, with their own share of the vote, may jam each other up like the diseases in Mr. Burns, and Thiel could, in theory, squeeze on through. While Donald Trump is very, very unpopular here in California, he still received over 4.5 million votes in the state, and Republican Congressional incumbents all won re-election (Issa barely). There are still enough Republicans and Republican-minded independents left that if he launched a serious campaign, he would probably squeeze into the number two spot. Chiang and Newsom would likely trade first/second position in precincts across the Bay Area, and Thiel could possibly come in third there. Down in the Southland (the Greater Los Angeles Area, San Diego, and the Inland Empire), Thiel would probably win Orange County, perform well enough in San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino, and could benefit from Villariagosa and Newsom battling for Los Angeles County. Villariagosa would likely try to target Hispanic pockets of the Central Valley while Thiel would appeal to stretches of Trump territory in Kern, Fresno, Madera, and Kings.

In theory, if he really wants to, he could make it to the general election, but then he’d have to run a helluva campaign to overcome his biggest challenge: President Trump. California has continued on as if the rest of the country didn’t just vote for Donald Trump, like it’s in an alternate 2017. So unless and until Trump’s popularity exploded out here on the Left Coast, Mr. Thiel would be forced to constantly distance himself from his friend at 1600 Pennsylvania.

It’s hard to see Thiel do this, because he knows the odds. With all of the money at her disposal and a favorable wind at the start of 2014, Meg Whitman fell to Jerry Brown by double-digits. Neel Kashkari performed even worse just four years ago. Democratic voter registration has skyrocketed and Republican registration figures are drying up. He would need to be supremely confident that none of these big leftward shifts would stop him to throw his hat into the ring.

Other business types have tried their hands at the paddles. I suspect Thiel¬†knows there’s no point in turning the defibrillator on.