Billionaire Tom Steyer—whose name recognition of late centers around his campaign to impeach President Donald Trump—officially entered the presidential race on Tuesday, vowing to confront corporations and lessen their sway over the political system.
“I think people believe that the corporations have bought the democracy. That the politicians don’t care about them or respect them,” he said in a video announcement. “Really what we’re trying to do is make democracy work by pushing power down to the people.”
Although Steyer has not yet outlined a policy platform, he has been an ardent climate change activist, as well as a vocal opponent of Trump’s, launching a $10 million national advertisement to unseat the president. “He’s brought us to the brink of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the FBI, and in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, he’s taken money from foreign governments, and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth,” Steyer says in the ad.
The former hedge fund manager brands himself as another American citizen. I’m just like you, he implores. But while his impeachment rhetoric and anti-corporatist positioning will surely resonate among many Democrats, Steyer will likely have to confront some cognitive dissonance as a billionaire in a crowded field of populist contenders, some of whom say that such personal wealth should not even exist.
That’s certainly not lost on the newly minted candidate, who has a net worth of $1.6 billion and has already pledged to spend $100 million on his primary campaign. “I’m Tom Steyer, and like you, I’m a citizen who knows it’s up to us to do something,” he says in his push for impeachment—an apparent attempt to convince listeners that his fortune doesn’t alienate him from the Little Guy.
Wealth aside, his business ventures in and of themselves are expected to draw scrutiny now that he’s thrown his hat into the ring. His successful private sector run at Farallon Capital Management included hefty investments in oil, private prisons, and subprime lending—all of which are industries that progressives are increasingly critical of as the party moves farther left. He also has little traction with the establishment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) reportedly expressed her displeasure to Steyer over his impeachment blitz, calling it a “distraction” in 2017 when she was still the minority leader.
Leveraging the elephant in the room, the Republican National Committee came out swinging. “After a false start, left-wing extremist Tom Steyer has finally formalized his self-promotion tour under the guise of a presidential campaign,” RNC spokesman Steve Guest said in a statement. “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.”
Steyer has been a prolific donor to liberal causes as well as a grassroots mobilizer, founding NextGen America, which advocates for increased youth voter turnout. He will resign from his leadership role at that group, as well as at Need to Impeach, although he said he will donate more than $50 million to ensure their continued sucess through 2020.
In order to make it to the Democratic debate stage later this month, he will need to amass 65,000 individual donors by July 16, as a 1 percent polling margin this late in the game is likely an impossible feat.
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