WASHINGTON DC – The first time I saw a political advert for Blake Masters, who is running in the Republican Senate primary in Arizona, I thought it was a parody.
“America isn’t just an idea,” he begins in the video, published this past February. “We’re a country. We’re a people.” He then lists some of the people who make up America. “This is the home of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Of Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway. Of Norman Rockwell and Chuck Berry.” He then lists two more names, but these are censored by a beep and a black box, to suggest they are Americans whose names can no longer be said without backlash.
He continues: “I can hear the screeching already: ‘That list isn’t diverse enough!’ That’s all these people can talk about. But when’s the last time you heard NPR [National Public Radio] talk about American greatness?” All of this was said with soft music playing underneath. Masters is shown standing in front of an Arizona landscape, rocks and trees blurred but visible in the background. I thought this person was doing a bit, pretending to be an over-the-top Republican candidate obsessed with cancel culture. Why was he speaking so intensely about Norman Rockwell? What voter is casting a ballot based on feelings for the 19th-century folk hero Davy Crockett? Why would NPR, which reports the news, be waxing poetic on American greatness? It had to be a joke.
It was not. Masters, 35, is indeed running for Senate. He was endorsed by the former president Donald Trump last month. He, like JD Vance in Ohio, is backed by the billionaire Peter Thiel. Masters, who went to Stanford for his undergraduate degree and for law school, is president of the Thiel Foundation, and co-wrote Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future with Thiel.
To get a sense of Masters’s politics (beyond his stated belief that America isn’t just an idea), consider that he has been recorded repeating the idea that the storming of the US Capitol building, designed to stop the certification of 2020’s presidential election result on 6 January 2021, was an FBI set-up; has vowed to finish construction of the wall on the southern border with Mexico, and “always oppose[s] amnesty” for undocumented immigrants; and has blamed “black people, frankly” for gun violence in the US. He was backed by a neo-Nazi, an endorsement he rejected while at the same time lambasting “the media” for reporting it. He threatened a defamation lawsuit against the Arizona Mirror, invoking the way Thiel brought down the website Gawker.
Last week, on 6 July, the New York Times wrote that Masters, in a chat room in 2007, opposed the US’s involvement in both world wars, though he acknowledged that arguing against the Second World War is “harder” because of “the hot-button issue of the Holocaust”. A year earlier, in 2006, a young Masters wrote on a libertarian site about American entry into the First World War and the “houses of Morgan and Rothschild”. He cited G Edward Griffin, a proponent of the anti-Semitic conspiracy that was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which Griffin feels “accurately describe[s] much of what is happening in our world today”. Masters ended the post with what he called a “particularly representative and poignant quotation” from Hermann Göring, one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi Party.
Masters is currently comfortably ahead in Arizona Republican primary polls. Mark Kelly, the current Democratic senator from Arizona (and husband of Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman who was the target of an attempted assassination in 2011), is, at present, polling ahead of Masters. The people of Arizona may not choose Masters to represent them in the Senate. Arizona currently has a Republican governor and Republican-controlled state legislature, but it also has two Democratic senators (Kelly is one) and went for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. By all accounts, the state is trending towards the Democrats not the Republicans.
Nevertheless, it looks as if Arizona and national Republicans are trying to bolster Masters, rather than encouraging a more moderate Republican to tempt swing voters back. Trump isn’t the only key figure who has thrown his support behind the candidacy. Ric Grenell, ambassador to Germany in the Trump administration, un-endorsed Masters’s primary rival, the businessman Jim Lamon – who called Masters a “puppet of California Big Tech”, in reference to Thiel. (Grenell also criticised Lamon explicitly, saying in a statement: “Attacking my friend Peter Thiel is a bad strategy that only helps elect Democrats.”) Perhaps more significantly given the reach of his programme, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson calls Masters “the future of the Republican Party”.
Maybe the future of Republican politics does sound like a parody of itself. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take itself seriously, or that it can be laughed away.