Tom Steyer’s entry into the Democratic race raises an important question. If a multibillionaire donates to himself 130,000 times, will he get a spot in the third presidential debate?
No really, that’s about the only question Steyer’s candidacy will raise. As expected, the man who has been pushing for Donald Trump’s impeachment made it official earlier today:
It’s true. I’m running for president. pic.twitter.com/u8x2lZah7Z
— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) July 9, 2019
His populist “power to the people” sounds a bit like another multibillionaire’s pitch four years ago:
Let’s take our democracy back from corporations and special interests, and give it to the people––the way it was always intended.
I'm excited to meet you on the campaign trail soon. Join us at https://t.co/jXtstPHDwJ
— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) July 9, 2019
At least when Donald Trump made this pitch, he had an arguable outsider status claim. Steyer has spent the last several years as one of the monied interests influencing politics that he’s now railing against. It started with Steyer’s crusade on global warming, the apotheosis of which was his pressuring Harry Reid into an all-nighter in the Senate when Democrats didn’t even have a bill to offer.
Even Dana Milbank called the effort “hot air,” which wasn’t meant as a compliment, and Milbank pointed out that Steyer’s money and influence was the point of the stunt:
Still, they figured their antics in the wee hours would display their dedication for all Americans to see — or at least insomniacs who watch C-SPAN2. It also might impress Democratic donors. As The Post’s Ed O’Keefe reported, Democratic senators discussed plans for the filibuster last month at a fundraiser held by liberal billionaire Thomas Steyer.
Five years ago, Steyer had enough juice as an insider money man to force Reid into that stunt. For the last couple of years, Steyer has tried to use his money to force Democrats to take up impeachment of Donald Trump. That turned out to be a tone-deaf effort, with more people than ever opposing such a move, but it never stopped Steyer from threatening to withhold his money from Democrats who didn’t support impeachment. For Steyer to come out now as the white knight against political influence and manipulation by the elites is akin to Trump suddenly claiming a mantle of leadership on civility and humility. It’s so laughable as to be satirical, but that would assume Steyer has a sense of humor.
Coincidentally, today marks the final departure of the man who set the precedent of the billionaire presidential hopeful. H. Ross Perot died earlier today in Texas, the veteran of two independent presidential campaigns that changed the direction of the country even though Perot never won a single state:
Perot’s wealth, fame and confident prescription for the nation’s economic ills propelled his 1992 campaign against President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. Some Republicans blamed him for Bush’s lost to Clinton as Perot garnered the largest percentage of votes for a third-party candidate since former President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 bid.
During the campaign, Perot spent $63.5 million of his own money and bought up 30-minute television spots. He used charts and graphs to make his points, summarizing them with a line that became a national catchphrase: “It’s just that simple.”
Former President George W. Bush called Perot a patriot.
“Texas and America have lost a strong patriot,” Bush said in a statement. “Ross Perot epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit and the American creed. He gave selflessly of his time and resources to help others in our community, across our country, and around the world. He loved the U.S. military and supported our service members and veterans. Most importantly, he loved his dear wife, children, and grandchildren. Laura and I send our heartfelt condolences to the entire Perot family as they celebrate a full life.”
That certainly was a gracious message from the Bushes, whom Perot at times accused of dirty tricks against him. In the 1992 campaign, Perot briefly withdrew only to re-enter the race after claiming that the Bush family had attempted to sabotage his daughter’s wedding. It was a bizarre episode in what had been a remarkable attempt to get around the two-party system, but it reminded people of Perot’s less-than-stable temperament, which has its own parallels to today as well.
So how seriously should we take Steyer? He’s not likely to make much progress within the Democratic field, which has already stocked up on extreme-progressive craziness. His wealth and his demographics will limit his appeal in a cycle where Democrats are already flagellating themselves over the enduring support for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. He’s no real threat for the Democratic nomination.
However, that’s not his only option. If Steyer gets frustrated with being just one voice among 347 others (estimated) in the Democratic race, he might go Perot’s way — and that could present Democrats with a serious problem. Steyer has the money and the stubbornness to present a Perot-like threat as an independent to whomever Democrats nominate, perhaps especially Biden. Steyer might not get 19% of the vote as Perot did in 1992, but if he gets 8% by splitting progressives away from Biden, that’s a sure-fire way to re-elect Trump … which would be an entire new level of irony.