California Billionaire Tom Steyer Backs Away from 2020 Presidential Run

Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently spoke out against self-funding candidates

Tom Steyer / Getty Images

DES MOINES, Iowa – California billionaire and political activist Tom Steyer will not enter the already crowded field of Democrats seeking their party's nomination for the 2020 presidential contest, according to a report by the New York Times. 

Minutes after the news broke, Steyer made it official, speaking from a podium at a downtown Des Moines hotel.

"I said last year that I’m willing to do whatever I can to protect our country from this reckless, lawless, and dangerous president," he began. "Every day since, Mr. Trump has revealed new depths to his incompetence, his corruption, and his cruelty. The threat he poses to the American people has only grown."

"Now, the impeachment question has reached an inflection point. Therefore, I will be dedicating 100 percent of my time, effort, and resources to one cause: working for Mr. Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. I am not running for president at this time."

"Mr. Steyer's decision came as a surprise even to some of his political confidants," the Times reported. "He had made deliberate preparations in recent months to seek the White House, running television ads in the early primary states, recruiting potential staff members and even designating a campaign manager for a possible run."

The media team for Steyer put out a notice on Tuesday of a "major announcement," which naturally stoked speculation that the political activist would be moving closer to becoming a candidate.

But the liberal billionaire has teased his followers and the press like this before.

In 2015, rumors mounted that Steyer would run for the California senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer. However, he stepped away from that race.

Almost exactly one year ago, he gathered the press for another major announcement that again provoked conjecture of a candidacy of some kind, whether for the California governor's race or senate race of 2018, or for the 2020 presidential contest. Instead, Steyer simply announced his intentions to lavishly fund Democratic efforts to retake the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 cycle.

Steyer has cultivated a higher national political profile over the last two years, due mainly to his series of television ads—some of them aimed squarely at Democrats—urging impeachment against President Trump. The effort has also helped the political activist build an email base of more than 6.5 million people, according to his PAC "Need to Impeach."

He also spent lavishly on helping Democrats retake the majority in the House of Representatives, making him one of the top two contributors to Democratic causes in the nation.

Steyer is in Iowa promoting a political platform he is calling the "5 Rights," described on his website as a set of ideas meant to "redefine what it means to be free in the 21st century, to make sure we all have a fair chance at success in America." Steyer, as part of his promotion of the platform, had already made an appearance in the early primary state of South Carolina, and still has more events planned in Nevada and New Hampshire.

As American politics has witnessed populist surges on both the right and the left, Steyer's wealth was becoming an issue early in the campaign cycle.

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) appeared on the Rachel Maddow show shortly after announcing her exploratory committee, she said, "I think this is a moment for all of the Democratic nominees as they come into the race to say, in a Democratic primary, we are going to link arms, and we're going to say, grassroots funding. No to the billionaires. No to the billionaires, whether they are self-funding or whether they're funding PACs."

Warren clarified she wasn't saying billionaires like former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Steyer shouldn't run, but that "I just mean that people should not be self-funding, and they should not be funded from PACs from other billionaires."

"Her jab at ‘self-funding' was a clear shot at billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, both of whom are visiting primary states," wrote Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel. "Ms. Warren wants them to know that she will mobilize her progressive base to oppose them on principle."

According to several press releases from Steyer in recent months, he's boasted that he "had one of the largest impacts on the midterm elections, investing $120 million in grassroots organizing to expand democracy and elect progressive candidates across the country."

Even with that largesse, Steyer couldn't exactly be described as welcome in all circles of Democrat politics. While still the House minority leader last May, Nancy Pelosi said that early talk about impeachment was "a gift to Republicans." Former Obama adviser David Axelrod called "Need to Impeach" a "vanity" campaign.