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How Roger Ailes and Peter Thiel reflect GOP angst

From Roger Ailes to Peter Thiel

It could be a moment for the GOP.

Two high-profile Republicans, moving in opposite directions. On the one hand you have Peter Thiel, 48, a super-smart, super-successful, gay businessman addressing the convention — his profile on the rise. On the other hand, Roger Ailes, 76, being pushed out for unacceptably boorish behavior. Ailes’ reign as head of Fox News, and as such the Lord Mayor of the Conservative media, is apparently over.

So, is it really the case that the Republican Party has become … gulp … PC? Maybe just a little bit, though I wouldn’t read too much into it. It is true that sexual propositioning by a boss just doesn’t fly anymore in mainstream American business. Most Republicans would agree with that. And it’s even true that same-sex marriage is not the same hot-button issue for many Republicans it used to be, particularly among young Republicans.

But truth be told, both Ailes and Thiel are outliers. Ailes’ alleged sex-for-jobs offer is so blatant that it’s indefensible. You can imagine some old guy still trying to claim that a comment about a woman’s outfit is harmless, but imagine trying to pass off the old sex-for-money ploy. (“Oh come on, what’s wrong with suggesting that someone should have sex with me for a better job?” Um, how about everything.)

As for Thiel, he really is a category of one. Historically a Libertarian who gave tons of money to Ron Paul’s super PAC and supported Carly Fiorina, Thiel is a founder of Paypal and Palantir, and the first outside investor in Facebook. He’s an iconoclast’s iconoclast, advocating offshore communities and suggesting that college is unnecessary, among other “think different” ideas.

He’s also a really interesting guy. A few years ago, I had breakfast with Thiel in his luxurious home in a posh neighborhood of San Francisco. A chef of some sort prepared what Thiel described as “a caveman breakfast,” (I think it was right before the word ‘paleo’ was introduced), which consisted of poached egg over some greens and other raw items. (Um, good!) We talked about everything under the sun, from technology to government (his two favorite subjects) to aging and education.

In another Peter Thiel moment I recall well, Thiel was pitted against Google executive Eric Schmidt at a panel at a Fortune conference. They were arguing whether technology was creating opportunities for all, with Schmidt saying yes and Thiel saying not so much. Thiel soon enough edged the debate towards ad hominem attacks of Schmidt calling him “Google’s minister of propaganda.”  Thiel is of course also now famous — infamous, really —for  funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker. This, because a Gawker site sought to out Thiel years ago.

As for Roger Ailes, he’s certainly made his own mark too, reinventing and rewriting the rules of cable news for one. Those who know him call him brilliant too. I remember I was at a salon on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with him a few years ago. We were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves. When it was Ailes’ turn, he paused a moment for effect and said quite loudly, “My name is Anderson Cooper.” Some guests laughed, some looked bewildered, while others rolled their eyes.

So yes, you could argue that Thiel is the wax to Ailes’ wane in the Republican Party. But really the two men are more like one-offs, which if you think about, points to an issue for the GOP. The party is trying to unite right now, but around what can it coalesce?

Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance.

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