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Blake Masters fails to conquer Arizona

Defeated Arizona Senate candidate, Blake Masters. Credit: Getty

November 14, 2022 - 10:15am

On paper, recently defeated Arizona senate candidate Blake Masters seemed to have it all. He had the Stanford pedigree, the legal background, the venture capital expertise, and a longtime friendship with billionaire businessman Peter Thiel — whose lecture notes Masters turned into a successful book. Only 36, Masters had the added benefit of cutting his teeth in the extremely online world that has produced many of the rising stars of the latest iteration of the New Right. 

What the Donald Trump-endorsed Masters did not have, as proved by last Tuesday’s midterm elections, was voter support sufficient to unseat incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly. Kelly is an unexciting moderate and retired astronaut whose primary claims to fame are being one half of the only pair of identical twins to have orbited the earth and developing an interest in politics after deranged assailant Jared Loughner attempted to murder his wife, then-congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

Masters also significantly underperformed compared to the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, a longtime Phoenix television news anchor and former Democrat whose outrage about Covid policies led her to resign her TV job to run for office. Lake’s looming but not yet certified loss to Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who angered Trump supporters through her vehement attacks on his election fraud claims, would appear to have much to do with the voters’ more substantial repudiation of Masters.

As Thiel protégés go, Masters seemed to offer the New Right a good deal more than J.D. Vance, the winning Republican Senate candidate in Ohio who had spent much of 2016 and 2017 denouncing Trump and promoting his memoir Hillbilly Elegy to a target audience of political moderates. Yes, Vance eventually apologised to Trump and received his somewhat mocking endorsement, but his victory owed as much to the rising tide of Ohioans that reelected popular governor Mike DeWine, who outperformed Vance by nearly 400,000 votes. 

In any case, Vance wasn’t the cool, Silicon Valley-forged neophyte that Masters was, a point hammered home in IM—1776 editor’s Benjamin Braddock’s recent on-the-ground coverage of the Masters campaign. Braddock praises Masters for both his political aesthetics — his videos were slickly produced, though his slightly awkward personality lent them an “uncanny valley” effect — as well as his willingness to visit hole-in-the-wall border towns long lost to Republican candidates. In an accompanying interview with Braddock, Masters also channelled some of the same “fail fast” energy found in Zero to One, his book with Thiel, claiming he wanted to move beyond partisan politics to discussions of individual ideas on their own merits.

Unfortunately, some of this willingness to move quickly and break things led to abrupt shifts between his rhetoric in the Republican primary, which skewed Right, and the more moderate tone he adopted in the general election. In August 2022, Masters scrubbed much stronger pro-life language from his campaign website as well as text that suggested the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump. Some could argue this was cynical politicking: he had, after all, already received Trump’s endorsement in June 2022, and now needed to win the support of middle-of-the-road voters. There was also something questionable about Masters’s evolution from a largely pro-immigration libertarian to a nationalist who believed in substantial immigration restrictions and border protection. 

In the final analysis, Masters’s own personality, however eccentric, was likely not responsible for his downfall. Mark Kelly, hardly a charismatic figure in his own right, benefitted from political tailwinds related not to “rigged elections” but rather to what commentator Andrew Sullivan described as the “sense that the Right-wing populist surge is retreating somewhat everywhere” because “there is a vibe shift toward the center — even in Left-media and pop culture.” 

Most likely, Masters, an expert on iterating products in pursuit of marketplace success, simply offered up the wrong version of himself at the worst possible time. If he heeds his own advice from Zero to One, he will recalibrate and return to the marketplace of ideas at a later date, perhaps without Trump’s endorsement in tow, ready to fail better than before.


Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work

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JP Martin
JP Martin
1 year ago

Not mentioned is that campaign donations played a big part. Kelly’s campaign spent massively from its $74 million war chest. Masters’ campaign raised approximately $10 million. As a result, American democracy is once again much poorer.

willy Daglish
willy Daglish
1 year ago

All “Trumpist” candidates find themselves in a Catch-22 situation.
If they have the intelligence and honesty to do the job, they have to admit that they knowingly lied about everything to do with Trump.
If they continue to support him, they prove themselves to be too stupid or too dishonest – usually both – to be worthy of elected office.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  willy Daglish

Since when does stupidly and dishonesty preclude someone from elected office?

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Its a positive advantage for Republicans.
The fact that Herschel Walker is within a million miles of a seat in the US senate shows how far they have fallen. And obviously Trump himself concedes to no man when it comes to stupidity and dishonesty!

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
1 year ago

Masters lost because he is clearly completely barmy. While that is a positive advantage in the MAGA world it tends to be a downer for normal people.