Major party conventions are very useful opportunities for expanding the tent of a presidential campaign. Often, speakers are invited to broadcast messages designed to appeal to groups and business sectors, offering them a reason to climb aboard the campaign. Usually, these speakers are well-known figures sought after for their likability or inspiring origin story. Because of that, convention lineups are historically stocked with party grandees and beloved public figures.
But 2016 is the year of Trump, so GOPers in Cleveland are getting Peter Thiel.
Peter Thiel will appear at the Republican National Convention, FORBES has confirmed, and will speak openly of his endorsement of Donald Trump next week.
A spokesperson for Thiel told FORBES that the billionaire venture capitalist would make an appearance in Cleveland, where he is expected to talk on the final night of the four-day event.
While Thiel is hardly the strangest name to appear on the convention call sheet (how you doin, Tim Tebow or Dana White or pro golfer Natalie Gulbis?), he does prompt head-scratching.
For instance; Who the f@ck is Thiel supposed to appeal to in his remarks?
Judging by an open letter signed by a veritable who's who in the tech industry, Trump's popularity rating in Silicon Valley is hovering in the mid-zeros. And don't just take our word it, the letter - signed by Ev Williams, Vinod Khosla and Chris Sacca among others - ends thusly:
We stand against Donald Trump’s divisive candidacy and want a candidate who embraces the ideals that built America’s technology industry: freedom of expression, openness to newcomers, equality of opportunity , public investments in research and infrastructure, and respect for the rule of law. We embrace an optimistic vision for a more inclusive country, where American innovation continues to fuel opportunity, prosperity and leadership.
Granted, Thiel is an honest-to-code living legend in Silicon Valley. They guy simultaneously embodies the holy tech trinity of founder, thought leader and investor. He's a major character in the epic poem origin tales of both PayPal and Facebook, and the personification of tech outsider thinking.
But then again, he's Peter Thiel.
Can he really sell a version of Donald Trump to techies that even vaguely includes "openness to newcomers," "equality of opportunity," or "respect for the rule of law?"And isn't his own reputation a bit obliterated on the topic of "freedom of expression" after his extremely publicized private crusade against Gawker and other news outlets?
What's the value proposition of a Peter Thiel speaking slot? Sure, he'll be the first openly gay speaker at a GOP convention, but Thiel is not big on talking about his "personal journey." And yeah, he's a billionaire, but he's a real one. And Trump doesn't hold up well in comparison to those.
So, again, who will Peter Thiel be talking to? He's a self-identified Libertarian from an industry that rejects Trump and his unorthodox GOP orthodoxy whose own personal life is at odds with a large part of the party platform.
In short, Thiel's speech is almost certain to be fascinating, but maybe because it will be a nationally-televised example of stunning cognitive dissonance.