California Billionaire Tom Steyer Does the Presidential Hokey Pokey

Liberal megadonor dropped out of the race in January

Tom Steyer / Getty Images
• July 9, 2019 10:45 am


First he was out, now he's back in: Liberal billionaire and political activist Tom Steyer is officially a candidate for president in the Democratic field, and appears ready to bring the divisive issue of impeachment into the race along with him.

"If you think that there's something absolutely critical, try as hard as you can and let the chips fall where they may," the Californian said in a Twitter video. "And that's exactly what I'm doing."

The text of his Tweet simply said, "It's true. I'm running for president."

The Republican National Committee was quick to jump on Steyer's reversal.

"After a false start, left-wing extremist Tom Steyer has finally formalized his self-promotion tour under the guise of a presidential campaign. The only thing Steyer's campaign will do is light more of his money on fire as he joins the rest of the 2020 Democrat field in pushing policies that are way outside the mainstream."

For most of 2018, Steyer was thought to be assembling all the elements necessary for a bid, including boosting his name recognition by bankrolling a blitz of impeachment TV ads and making frequent trips to early presidential voting states while promoting his "Five Rights" platform. And as he pushed his "Need to Impeach" effort through media buys and dozens of town halls across the country, he amassed an email base in the millions, a valuable campaign tool.

But in January, Steyer announced from Des Moines that he would not be running, and instead committed to pouring fresh millions into his impeachment effort.

"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 said at the time. "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."

Minutes before the announcement of the scrapped bid in January, the New York Times broke the news, saying, "Mr. Steyer's decision came as a surprise even to some of his political confidants. 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."

Steyer has had a habit of tiptoeing to the precipice of becoming a candidate, only to back off.

He was widely assumed to be planning a run for the California Senate seat being vacated by long-time senator Barbara Boxer in 2015, but he ultimately demurred.

In early 2018, he teased his followers and the media with a "major announcement" about his political plans, which again many assumed would include a candidacy of some sort. Instead, he rolled out a plan to help Democrats across the country in an effort to take the legislative majority away from Republicans.

Another "major announcement" in January concluded only with his decision to redouble his efforts in his impeachment campaign.

Yet hints at Tuesday's reversal began as far back in April when Starting Line Iowa reported that robocalls in that state were taking voters' temperature on how they felt about a number of political statements, some of which clearly described Steyer and his many projects, such as voter drives and environmental issues.

Despite all his efforts for progressive causes and promoting numerous Democratic house candidates in 2018, Steyer still seems to have a tense relationship with the party establishment. Recent attack angles of the "impeach" campaign have included directly targeting Democrats in powerful positions like House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), hoping residents in his district would raise enough of a clamor to force Nadler into tougher action against the president. Steyer has also battled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) in the press over the impeachment effort, and former Obama advisor David Axelrod once called Steyer's impeachment efforts a "vanity" campaign.

As Steyer reenters the race, his wealth is likely to become an issue as well. Before he withdrew in January, other opponents like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) appeared to take preemptive action against the prospect of self-funded candidates, which may be Steyer's strongest course, especially in a divided field.

"I think this is a moment for all of the Democratic candidates as they come into the race to say: In a Democratic primary, we are going to link arms and we're going to grass-roots funding. No to the billionaires," Warren said on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show.

"No to the billionaires whether they are self-funding or whether they're funding PACs. We are the Democratic Party, and that is the party of the people. That's how we not only win elections, that's how we build movements that make real change."

Published under: 2020 Election, Tom Steyer