(TNS) -- The prospect of a President Trump is rattling Silicon Valley — even if his fellow Republicans can’t find any trace of his campaign there.
The nation’s tech hub is waking up to the reality that billionaire developer Donald Trump is on track to win the Republican nomination. A Trump Effect is moving through the valley, freezing the check-writing hands of conservative donors as they wait to see how the primary campaign drama plays out.
For Democrats, Trump’s history of misogynistic and anti-immigrant statements has been a boon, a jolt to fundraising for Hillary Clinton since Trump took hold of the GOP race by steamrolling through the Nevada caucuses.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that some tech world conservatives fear Trump — they’re still wondering what he meant when he proposed “closing areas” of the Internet to combat terrorism.
“Most of my friends think he’s a f— idiot,” said libertarian-leaning venture capitalist Michael Kim, when asked about Trump when he was a panelist at a recent Palo Alto event on venture funding and tech policy. But as they watch Trump march toward the nomination, “they’re kind of in the resignation stage.”
Sitting next to Kim on the panel and offering a slightly more diplomatic take was Ted Ullyot, a Republican and former general counsel of Facebook who is now working on tech policy for venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz. “I’ve never heard anybody say anything good about Trump,” he said.
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman — who was a top fundraiser for also-ran candidate Chris Christie — urged the New Jersey governor’s donors not to support Trump even though Christie had endorsed him.
“Donald Trump is unfit to be president,” said Whitman, a candidate for California governor in 2010. “He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey.”
Valley Democrats, on the other hand, are thrilled at Trump’s lead, particularly those supporting Clinton, who dominates tech donations among all candidates. For them, Trump is giving more people a reason to give — to a Democrat.
“The phones are ringing a lot more in the past few days,” said tech executive Amy Rao, who has raised more than $1 million for Clinton going back to her first White House run in 2008. “And they’re people I know who vote Republican, and they’re asking what they can do to help Hillary.”
Wade Randlett, a longtime valley fundraiser for Democratic candidates, quipped, “Does manure help to grow roses?”
Trump doesn’t smell much better to valley conservatives. His policy proposals — thinly sketched as they are — are anathema to its Republicans, many of whom tend to be socially progressive and fiscally conservative.
Trump is a trade protectionist and his call for a 35 to 45 percent tariff on imports from China doesn’t go over well in a region that relies on trade with Asia. He also opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which many top technology firms support.
“Uber is spending $1 billion competing in China, while Trump wants to raise tariffs and is selling a protectionist agenda,” said Matt Mahan, CEO of Brigade, a San Francisco startup working to increase participation in civic discussion. “The last thing you want is a trade war.”
To others, Trump’s hard-line position on immigration is a deal-breaker. Not only has he called for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but he also has vowed to end the H-1B visa program, which many tech companies rely on to hire highly skilled workers from abroad. Trump has called it “a cheap labor program” that “is neither high skilled nor immigration: These are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay,” according to his website.
“That’s a little bit scary in terms of decision-making if that’s how you’re going to run a country,” said Christine Hughes, chairwoman of the San Francisco Republican Party, who has hosted fundraisers for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who dropped out of the race Friday.
Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric — like his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. — doesn’t go over well in a region where 44 percent of tech startups were founded by an immigrant between 2006 and 2012, according to the Kauffman Foundation.
Trump also lost points in the valley when he called for a boycott of Apple for refusing the FBI’s request that it unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino gunman.
Culturally, he’s a mismatch. He is a scion who made his money through real estate — that gets shrugged off in the nation’s innovation capital. His positions opposing same-sex marriage and abortion rights are out of step in the valley.
“It’s complete disbelief (in the valley), and it’s disorienting,” said Garrett Johnson, co-founder of libertarian-leaning Lincoln Initiatives, which tries to bring together Washington policymakers and valley technologists. “Nobody knows how things will play out.”
The effect “is that donors are frozen,” said Rob Stutzman a longtime GOP operative who is raising money for Rubio after supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also left the race. “There are still a lot of people on the sidelines. They’re wondering, ‘Do I get behind Trump and rationalize moving behind him, or wait?’”
It is even hard for people who want to support Trump to get involved.
“I have gotten calls from people asking me, ‘Can you hook me up with the Trump campaign?’” Hughes said. She emailed the campaign and got an automated response that someone would get in touch. “And that was three weeks ago.”
Jan Soule, who is president of the Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women, recently tried to find the Santa Clara County chair for the Trump campaign. She couldn’t. Nevertheless, Trump won a recent straw poll among the association’s members.
“Among the people I talk to, people either say, ‘Ooooh, I like Trump,’ or they’re just plain afraid of him,” Soule said. “They say, ‘Oh, my God, he can’t be elected.’”
There is no equivocation among Democrats. The Trump Effect is a growing positive for them.
“I’m suddenly getting much more outreach from my community — there’s been a spike in interest in the last couple of weeks.” said Stacy Mason, a Palo Alto fundraiser for Clinton and co-founder of WomenCount, a crowdfunding site for female Democratic office seekers.
“There is a deeper and deeper concern that he could actually be elected president,” said Chris Kelly, an early top executive at Facebook who hosted a fundraiser at his home for Clinton in August. “I think that could drive a lot of energy our way.”
©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.