The Review Interviews Blake Masters

The Review Interviews Blake Masters

The Review recently sat down with Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters to ask him about his run for Senate, his time in Silicon Valley, and more. Masters graduated with a B.A. degree from Stanford in 2009 and a J.D. in 2012. He is the co-author, along with Peter Thiel (the founder of the Review), of the 2014 bestseller Zero to One. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Stanford Review: There are many opportunities in public service you could have explored, why run for Senate?

Blake Masters: This race is really important: the Senate is obviously deadlocked right now, with [Vice President] Kamala Harris being the tie-breaking vote. There’s a lot at stake here. Democrats tell us what they’re going to do if they keep the House and get a Senate majority. They’re going to pass H.R.1 or H.R. 4, the federalization of elections bill, and prohibit states like Arizona from requiring voter ID. They’re going to add new states to the Union, not because Democrats care about other places; they just care about getting new senators and getting a lock on power.

Democrats are transparent about wanting to pack the Supreme Court, about consolidating and totalizing their power. Preventing that by taking back the Senate is the most important thing we can do as a party. Arizona is a swing state—you can’t draw a path to a Republican Senate majority without it.

Review: What are the core principles you’re running on?

Masters: The meta-idea here is that our leaders on the Left and, with rare exceptions, on the Right for the last couple of decades have governed very badly. The federal government has exploded in size, while it has diminished radically in competence.

The middle of our country has basically been hollowed out. We’re living through a period of American decline, as well as a massive consolidation of power in both government and corporations. So, the average American is just getting screwed every which way.

I still believe in our founding principles: limited government instituted to protect people’s rights to life, liberty, happiness, and property. We’re just so far away from that with this out-of-control government and left-wing cultural takeover that we have. All of that is going to lead America to a very bad place. I want to fight against it.

Review: You mentioned America’s decline, but I don’t think you would describe yourself as a pessimist. In Zero to One you describe how ‘definite optimists’ build the future they envision. Would you describe your politics as one of definitive optimism, and if so, what is the future you envision?

Masters: The optimism-pessimism in question is very tricky. If you're just optimistic (in Zero to One we call this ‘indefinite optimism’), but you don’t have a basis or a plan that can become very demotivating because you won’t get involved. You just expect things to get better. At the same time, if you’re just militantly pessimistic, you won’t work hard because what’s the point?

The sweet spot is right in the middle: Our backs are against the wall, we’re in a really dark place. If Republicans lose in 2022 and 2024 the nation will be unrecoverable, and it’ll cement an era of American decline. But that’s not fated to be. It depends on what we do. And so if we realize that the stakes are huge and the situation is really dire, that can sound pessimistic, but I’m rather optimistic that we can work our way out of it—that is why I’m running for office.

We can work our way out of our present situation if we do bold, but commonsensical things. Like if you seal the southern border and get back a reasonable immigration policy. If you implement economic policy that actually works for the median American worker. If you stop fighting stupid foreign wars and stop spending trillions of dollars in the Mideast, and focus on our problems at home. If you take on the big institutions that have been infected by left-wing politics, like Big Tech and academia. If you do all these things I think we can build a successful future for America.

America is still the best nation in the world. We still have the best governance model. We have the most talented and hardworking people. But these institutions need to be revitalized generation to generation. I’m very optimistic, we just need a change and we need people who are actually willing to dismantle the systems that have been put in place. We need a new class of leadership that is competent and will lead people to a good future.

Review: At 35, you would be the second-youngest senator if you were elected next November. What do you think your relative youth in an aging institution would bring to the table? Do you think that’s important for conservatism?

Masters: I do. First of all, most of the Arizona primary electorate is over 55. But I think when older folks see a young conservative who's competent and who actually understands what's going on, who isn't moderate but instead is prepared to carry all of the beliefs we know are true into the future, I think that's actually very motivating to them. People are sick of hearing the same Baby Boomer conservatives say the same consultant-provided talking points. So while I’m very conservative, I will appeal to that part of the electorate, as well as young people.

I don’t need to tell you guys that Republicans have a problem generally with young people because the messaging is usually so out of touch and recycled. I think sounding different and looking different is how you break through. The median age in the Senate right now is something like 62, 63 years old. So, you have a lot of senators in their 70s and early 80s. It just doesn't make sense. The same people have been in office forever. Biden was elected in 1972 and stayed in office for almost 50 years. That's crazy. Youth is not itself a qualification, but I think all else equal, youth is a tremendous asset.

We should have more young competent people in government who actually are in their prime. I’ve had enough experience in business and politics to know what I’m doing and know what needs to be done. I also have a lot of runway ahead of me right now. I have young children and the country that they’ll grow up in really matters to me.

Review: You’ve worked in Silicon Valley and in various technology businesses. How does this experience shape the way you approach politics?

Masters: Yes, I've worked in the startup world. People trying to do bold, new things and trying to create new technologies, new businesses that haven’t existed before. I've seen plenty of that work. I've seen plenty of that not work, but I definitely approach politics with an entrepreneurial lens.

That background, combined with the Trump 2016 election, caused me to look at politics and realize it's not just about rehashing the same debates we've been having for decades. Republicans shouldn’t just repeat Reaganite dogma. President Trump showed me that new things are possible in politics. You can think of his administration as a start-up of sorts. It was disruptive. There was an entrenched elite on the left and the right. What the elites really thought we deserved in 2016 was another election between a Clinton and a Bush. Then Trump came along and said, “no way,” and he busted the establishment and broke through.

We have this moment to rebuild the Republican Party and decide the best way to oppose this radical left-wing agenda. A lot of that is about bringing our certain timeless principles forward, but it is also going to take new and entrepreneurial thinking. We need a little bit more of a mentality in government of how to do more with less, how to do new things, how we make it possible to innovate and succeed if we want to have a dynamic future.

Review: How has your time in Silicon Valley shaped how you approach Big Tech in particular?

Masters: I’ve had a front-row seat to these companies growing unfathomably large. I know first-hand that the problems are ten times worse than most people realize. Peter [Thiel] and I wrote a book in 2014, Zero to One, where we talked about monopolies and stagnation. Obviously, every entrepreneur wants to build a monopoly. You want to become so successful that no one can hope to compete with you. It’s good from the individual entrepreneur’s perspective. But monopolies can be very destructive once they no longer innovate.

That's the test for me. If the company is so big and powerful because it’s continually innovating and continually providing new value to people, that's a dynamic company. I think that's good.

The problem with Big Tech is that these companies, worth trillions of dollars, stay powerful not because they’re still innovating, but because they once innovated long ago. Now they’re entrenched and have monopoly profits that they’re able to capture through network effects.

Their whole business model is super questionable. Facebook and Google gather up all this data about us. They then use this data against us to serve hyper-targeted ads that are basically predatory. They use that power and those profits to put their thumb on the scale with our politics, whether it’s censoring conservatives, Google suddenly changing search engine algorithms to favor Democratic candidates, or Facebook ripping off the Hunter Biden New York Post laptop story the week before the election. It was a true story from a reputable newspaper, and Big Tech decided that hundreds of millions of Americans shouldn’t get to read it. That’s totally outrageous. No company should have the power to do that.

Review: On the theme of tech, do you think there's a tradeoff between fighting our own technology companies and fighting against China? In some ways, these companies are important assets to the United States.

Masters: It’s true that these companies are important assets, in so far as they are to have projections of American soft power. But also, no, there isn’t necessarily a tradeoff. Google is happy to work with China and censor anything in order to be able to operate in China. These companies are not particularly patriotic. Maybe they can be made to be so structurally. You could regulate them in such a way to help the United States defeat China, but I wouldn’t expect them to do anything out of the goodness of their hearts. I think Google and Apple are all too willing to work with China and that should make us trust them even less.

Review: I’m sure you’ve followed the infrastructure bill in Congress right now and know the importance of rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure. What are your thoughts on how to address our nation’s infrastructure?

Masters: I think it’s a very bad bill. I do think we need to get serious about infrastructure and make those investments. There is some amount of money that we should be spending. But it’s become a meme on the Left, they think everything is infrastructure. Social justice is infrastructure! They’ve allocated $75 million to a program promoting female truck drivers because we’re worried about the gender imbalance in long-haul trucking, and call that “infrastructure.” No, that’s bloat. Some bipartisan infrastructure bill should be possible, but the modern left is not serious about building things. They’re the party of redistribution and grievance politics. For a long time the GOP has been the party of “well, you don’t want to do that, we don’t want to spend money.” The new GOP has an opportunity to be a party of building and competent execution—something we haven’t seen in a long time.

I remember just reading the other night to my 7-year-old and my 5-year-old about the construction of Hoover Dam, a monumental project built not quite 100 years ago. At the bottom of the Hoover Dam there's a 600 feet wide insert to pour that concrete. We actually had crews rotating in and out, 24/7, working for two years straight. Today you couldn't even imagine doing that. A simple highway repaving goes over budget. The union labor only wants to work during certain times, and nobody works too hard. We’re so from the simple state capacity.

Our country used to do really great things. Imagine what we could do with today's technology if we were actually serious about deploying it. To resolve these problems we need a reckoning of why we've gotten so bad at building.

Review: In addition to public infrastructure, the private sector also needs to relearn how to innovate. Much of American manufacturing has gone overseas and technological innovation has stagnated. Do you have a vision about resurrecting real innovation within the private sector?

Masters: Stop offshoring and prioritize onshoring. Silicon Valley is so named because it was where we built silicon transistors in computer chips. It was a policy choice to shift all of that productive chipmaking industry to Southeast Asia. There are certain theoretical arguments related to economic efficiency, maybe you can understand why it was done, but at this point we can't even make the computer chips that we need. Ford can’t build F-150s, because they're running out of chips. It’s a national security issue. Half of all semiconductor chips are made in Taiwan, and if China ever moves on Taiwan we’re in trouble.

So I’m happy we’re bringing an Intel and a TSMC plant to Arizona. We want to encourage onshoring as much as possible. I’m for free markets generally, I don't want to regulate businesses willy-nilly like the Left, but we do need to tilt back in the direction of having an industrial policy and not pretending that ‘free trade’ automatically will improve the lives of middle-class Americans. So ideas like penalizing factory owners who want to move everything to Mexico to enjoy a slight labor arbitrage, I think all this is on the table. We have to have economic policy that works for the benefit of American citizens first.

Review: Last question: Do you have a favorite historical figure?

Masters: Let me give you two. One will be familiar. The other will be a bit more unexpected.

The first is George Washington, which I know is a bit cliché, but I don’t think people realize how much of a boss this guy was. The discipline and respect for his own understanding power as a corrupting influence to decline a third term. Washington was a powerful guy, there was no one more suited to lead the government into the next century and he declined to do it for the nation’s great benefit.

The second is Lee Kuan Yew, the man who created modern Singapore. Yew understood markets and capitalism in a way that so-called ‘free-market’ people at conservate think tanks don't. He created a modern, prosperous country and did it in a way that was more conservative than libertarian. He did something genuinely new in politics.

The sad part is that the Singaporean youth today, a generation or two removed from the Singaporean miracle, don’t understand their history. They themselves are rich and complacent and falling to the same sort of left-wing forces that plague us here. People who study Lee Kuan Yew can see what one committed person can do to change things.

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