Peter Thiel and Donald Trump agree on one big thing: They both want to make America great again. When it comes to the details of just how to do that, well, they might have some different ideas, judging from Thiel's short, vigorous speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Thursday night.
As previewed, Thiel cast Hillary Clinton as a warmonger and praised Trump as a better steward of the economy. "She pushed for a war in Libya and now it's a training ground for ISIS," the billionaire venture capitalist said, calling war the "most important issue." He added, "It's time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country."
He also made good on his plans to challenge Republicans to accept gays and stop putting so much energy into culture war issues. "Of course, every American has a unique identity. I'm proud to be gay," he said, drawing a perhaps surprising ovation. "Now we're told the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems."
But the real meat of Thiel's speech was his riff on a subject that hasn't gotten much airtime at the nominating convention: government spending on technology and infrastructure. Thiel, whose Founders Fund invests in futuristic technologies like artificial intelligence and space travel, thinks there needs to be a lot more of it.
"Our nuclear bases still use floppy disk. Our newest fighter jets can't even fly in the rain," he said. "And it would be kind to say government software works poorly because much of the time doesn't work at all. This is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan Project. We don't accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley."
Trump has talked plenty about building up the military, modernizing America's nuclear arsenal and investing in infrastructure. But the only "Manhattan Projects" he's known for are his many construction sites in New York, and he sees frontiers as something to be closed, not opened.
"Instead of going to Mars, we invaded the Middle East," Thiel quipped, but when Trump was asked about NASA's plans for a manned moon mission, he pointedly said he doesn't believe in spending money that way while national infrastructure remains in need of upgrading.
Weirdly, Thiel himself has said, as recently as 2014, that he sees the burden of technological innovation falling on private industry, not government. With Congress made up of "people basically stuck in the Middle Ages," getting government to invest in science is "politically impossible in our system."
A construction mogul, Trump has no trouble seeing the need to repave roads and rebuild bridges. It's unclear just where Thiel got that notion that Trump will broadly increase the pace of innovation in America.
Of course, there's always a chance he has other reasons for supporting Trump, but perhaps it's understandable he wouldn't want to bring up in a convention speech.