Top progressive billionaire still not sold on Hillary

Tom Steyer may be feeling the Bern in 2016. But will Bernie feel the billionaire? Reuters has an exclusive interview with the man who rented out the Senate for a night from Harry Reid about his strategy in the 2016 election, and Steyer says Hillary Clinton hasn’t closed the deal on climate change. He’s mulling whether he should back Bernie Sanders, whose socialist model comes closest to Steyer’s desires:

“I don’t think she’s fully fleshed out everything she has to say about energy and climate,” Steyer said. “I think that as the campaign goes on I would imagine she will put out more detailed plans of exactly what she thinks. I don’t find what she’s said inadequate, but I don’t think it’s complete yet.”

Sanders has a climate agenda that on its face appears to resonate more closely with Steyer’s – an aggressive move away from fossil fuels, including a ban on hydraulic fracturing. But he has also railed against billionaire influence in politics and has pledged not to accept cash from big donors.

Steyer said Sanders’ views on big money “certainly wouldn’t disqualify him for us, I can tell you that.”

“What Bernie Sanders is talking about, which is trying to get back to a more perfect democracy, is something that we support too. We just think that the idea of … wishing the rules were different and then pretending they were, is something which, unfortunately, probably would be disastrous from the standpoint of energy and climate,” Steyer said.

Reuters’ Richard Valdmanis raises a good point. Would Sanders accept Steyer’s billionaire support? The Democratic near-frontrunner has spent most of his time railing against the influence of the wealthy in politics. Maybe Bernie would decline based on Steyer’s track record of futility, but somehow it seems much more likely that Sanders would embrace Steyer as the kind of billionaire whose influence he wants in politics — as long as it supports Sanders.

Speaking of near-frontrunner status, the Associated Press expresses shock over the real possibility that Sanders may sweep the first two states in the primary process:

Sanders’ down-to-business demeanor on the campaign trail belies the youthful enthusiasm that’s accompanied his unexpected rise in the Democratic race for president. With less than two weeks until voting begins, the 74-year-old self-described democratic socialist could win both Iowa and New Hampshire, a once unthinkable outcome in a primary campaign that was supposed to be tailor-made for Hillary Clinton.

“Today the inevitable candidate doesn’t look quite so inevitable,” Sanders told voters who braved icy roads and single-digit temperatures to see him speak Tuesday morning in Fort Dodge. …

Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats on Capitol Hill, began his campaign with firm rules about what he was not willing to do to win the presidency. He’s among the most vigorous critics of super PACs, political groups that can accept donations of any size, and frequently touts his campaign’s reliance on small donations. He also vowed to avoid negative, personal attacks on his rivals.

That shows why embracing Steyer might actually do more damage than good for Sanders. He has built his dark-horse challenge into a contending campaign on the basis of his authenticity. In a populist cycle, I argue in my column for The Week, he has an abundance of authenticity while Hillary has none — and that might be enough:

Hillary Clinton had hoped to ride Obama’s coattails to an easy nomination, but now she looks like she might lose both Iowa and New Hampshire to Bernie Sanders. In the debate this past weekend, Sanders pushed her into the position of declaring herself the most stalwart defender of ObamaCare, a program so unpopular that the last time a majority of voters supported it in any poll was three years ago. Clinton appears to have concluded that authenticity within the Democratic coalition depends on the closeness of the embrace with Obama, even though she began her run by trying to keep her distance from him.

Sanders has a better grasp of the trend, and a political lifetime of single-minded pursuit of the left’s class-warfare anger, in part fueled by the perception of ObamaCare as a corporate handout. This week, he offered some red meat to the progressive-populist base in his soak-the-rich, single-payer national healthcare proposal. That one comes with a price tag of $14 trillion, but as a signal of authenticity to the part of the base animating this cycle for Democrats, it’s priceless.

The common thread between the two parties? Very little of the attention in either party is on policy. Voters of both persuasions listened to policy arguments through multiple election cycles, only to find out that the leadership they elected had other priorities. This is a return to the more basic politics of trust: a vote of confidence in outsiders, and no confidence in the establishment. It’s no longer business — it’s personal, and it will stay that way to the conventions and all the way to November.

Hooking up with Steyer might undermine Sanders’ entire raison d’être. If Steyer comes about the Bernie bus in a general election, it will be of no matter. For now, the best way Steyer can help Sanders is simply to not help Hillary. Don’t be surprised if that’s exactly how it plays out, especially if Sanders wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire. There may be more than one One Percenter who gets back to the sidelines if and when that happens.

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