Trump Supporters Are Rarer Than Unicorns in Silicon Valley

Can Trump Win the Silicon Valley Vote?
  • Tech industry dislikes Trump's stances on immigration, trade
  • Republican supporters keep extra-low profile during 2016 race

In Silicon Valley, where valuable "unicorn" startups are commonplace, the most mythical creature of all is the Trump supporter.

Sam Altman, president of startup accelerator Y Combinator, said he supported Republicans in the past. But Trump? "No, obviously not," he said. "It seems to be at least the end of the Republican Party, and maybe it’s the end of the Republic." Altman plans to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton this time.

Republicans usually stay pretty quiet in tech circles, but this year "it’s next-level in terms of how discreet people are being," said Tucker Bounds, a startup founder and former deputy communications director for John McCain’s failed presidential campaign in 2008. Bounds has not decided who to vote for and said other candidates may emerge.

Chris Sacca, an early investor in Twitter and Uber, said he knew "zero" Trump supporters in Silicon Valley. Hunter Walk, another venture capitalist, said, "No, not even folks who I suspect." Aaron Levie, chief executive officer of Box Inc., said "You won’t find that person in Silicon Valley."

The San Francisco Republican Party and the Santa Clara Republican Party did not name any tech industry Trump supporters when asked Thursday. One industry insider forwarded a long e-mail chain to Bloomberg News with executives discussing Trump’s victory. It included several Silicon Valley Republicans, none of whom wrote anything to support the candidate.

Some Trump policies turn off the technology industry. Free trade deals and open immigration are popular in Silicon Valley and Trump has made building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. a centerpiece of his campaign, while criticizing trade deals struck by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

"We all very strongly believe in immigration and bringing very skilled, awesome people to the U.S. and welcoming them," said George Arison, CEO of startup Shift Technologies Inc., who emigrated from the country of Georgia at 14. He declined to say who he supports, adding, "Google wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for (Russian-born) Sergey Brin and Tesla wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Elon Musk" who comes from South Africa.

A lack of support in Silicon Valley may not worry Trump because it’s leaned Democrat, along with most of California, in national elections. Beyond this liberal echo-chamber, he has more support, according to Nancy MacIntyre, CEO of startup Fingerprint, who traveled recently to cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore to meet customers.

"There were a number of really educated business people who were actually supporting Trump and their perspective was, Washington is totally screwed up and we need an outsider," said MacIntyre, who supports Clinton. "You go out into the world and that’s what you see."

However, as technology companies like Google and Facebook have grown into some of the world’s most valuable businesses, the sector has become a lobbying powerhouse and more of a political force. And employees at some Silicon Valley companies lean more Republican than their neighbors. As the presidential race got rolling last year, employees from Intel Corp., Oracle Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. gave most dollars to Republican candidates and their party. 

That was before Trump won. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called for unity after Trump won Tuesday’s Indiana primary, a victory that drove his two remaining opponents, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, from the race. Republicans in Silicon Valley seem reluctant so far.

After Cruz dropped out Tuesday, the tweets of venture capitalist and Republican supporter Keith Rabois took a sour turn. "Nixon feels like a flawless politician by comparison," he wrote. "As the baseball people say, the GOP strategy is now pray for rain."

Andrew Barkett, the former chief technology officer of the Republican Party who has worked at Google and Facebook, wrote a lengthy Facebook post that called people who support Trump "delusional." 

"We’re going to somehow save the country and the party. I don’t know how, but I’m not going to succumb to a world in which Donald Trump becomes an acceptable option," he said.

So far, Box CEO Levie said Silicon Valley was keeping its cool about the potential for a Trump presidency. "We’re hopeful and optimistic that the country ultimately is rational and that the primary process is not a reflection of the national view."

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