Tom Steyer, the activist billionaire best known for his campaign to impeach President Trump, has jumped into the 2020 contest, seeking the Democratic nomination for president.
Steyer announced his candidacy Tuesday morning with a four-minute video, hitting populist themes and blasting corporate greed:
In his launch address, Steyer said he is standing for the voters who believe “the system has left them,” that “the corporations have bought the democracy,” and that our political class is “working for people who’ve rigged the system.”
“If this is a banana republic with a few very, very rich people and everyone else living in misery, that’s a failure,” Steyer said as images of Bernie Madoff, Donald Trump, Jr., and “Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli flashed on the screen.
Sounding more like Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders than a billionaire who used to work for Goldman Sachs, Steyer insisted his top goal is to redistribute political power away from the “big money interests for whom stopping progress, stopping justice, is really important to their bottom line.”
A longtime financier who made his fortune in private equity, Steyer is worth roughly $1.6 billion and has vowed to invest $100 million in his presidential bid. The ability to self-fund gives Steyer the capacity to compete with top tier candidates in the race. And it makes his late entry in the race less problematic — though Steyer could still face challenges hitting the polling and donor metrics required to qualify for the party’s debates.
Steyer joins the 2020 field with one of the most formidable organizations in politics. More than 8 million Americans have signed on to his “Need to Impeach” petition, calling for the constitutional removal of Trump from office. The list includes millions of disaffected and unlikely voters, potentially giving Steyer a unique constituency. But it is untested whether the discontented Democratic masses Steyer has cultivated will flock to him as their 2020 standard bearer.
Steyer’s entry to the race also represents a reversal. He’d announced in January that he was not seeking the Democratic nomination, ending months of speculation he’d encouraged.
What is Steyer’s lane in the crowded Democratic field? The 62-year-old has put impeachment front and center, a stance that has positioned the San Francisco resident at odds with his friend and representative in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In an extended interview with Rolling Stone, Steyer boiled down his thinking on impeachment into a powerful ten-word phrase: “Once you don’t speak up against lawlessness, lawlessness is permitted.” Steyer’s commitment to holding Trump accountable to the Constitution in the face of foot-dragging from Democratic leadership in Washington could give him credibility as a political outsider.
Steyer’s umbrella organization NextGen America has also long made confronting climate change a central issue, although standing as a “climate candidate” has not exactly turbocharged the candidacy of Jay Inslee, the Washington governor.
As a 2020 candidate, Steyer is also positioned to talk about America’s dangerous polarization. He was a target of the alleged MAGA Bomber, receiving an IED in the mail last October. “If you look broadly at the behavior of the Republican party,” Steyer told Rolling Stone at the time, “there’s a win-at-all-costs lawlessness to their behavior that gives implicit license to other people to behave the same.”
Steyer enters the race with some of the same managerial baggage as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, dogged by a reputation for an abrasive and at times explosive style of leadership. When I brought up these issues with Steyer and asked him if he was “cut from presidential timber,” he responded: “I have no answer to your question, but I do have this: I think of myself as a very easy-going person. The only time that changes is when I’m confronted with what I think of as injustice. Then I’m not so easy-going.”