Billionaire Tom Steyer’s entrance into the 2020 Democratic race is the perfect example of the rot at the core of the US political system. What has compelled the 62-year-old California hedge fund billionaire to announce his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination?
If you listened to the inoffensive patter of Steyer, a man who seemed as if he had never been really told, “no”, you would hear a man deliver a focus-group-tested message about unaccountable elites, corporate influence, impending climate calamity, and a system rigged against regular people — offering nothing at all that hasn’t been more eloquently covered by better messengers like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
Above the din of cable panel speculation about his influence on the already-packed field, about how this decision fits in with his ongoing, ham-fisted campaign to impeach the president, and the irresistible narrative symmetry between this billionaire, non-politician’s idiosyncratic campaign and Trump’s insurgency in 2016, one message rang through Tuesday’s announcement loud and clear: Tom Steyer is running for president because he simply can.
Steyer has promised to spend $100 million on this endeavor, which has generously been described as a “vanity project” but could less generously be called an “elaborate wealth transfer from one extremely rich individual to a tiny cluster of political consultants and advertisers.” That figure — $100 million — exceeds the total second-quarter fundraising haul of the 2020 Democratic contenders Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Warren, and Sanders combined.
“I think that people believe the corporations have bought the democracy, that the politicians don’t care about or respect them. Don’t put them first, don’t respect them, are actually working for the people who have rigged the system. Really what we’re trying to do is make democracy work by pushing power down to the people.” This pitch from Steyer makes the entire campaign even more of a farce.
Leaving the hypocrisy of running on a campaign-finance-reform message while buying your way into a presidential race that doesn’t need you aside, if Steyer wanted to “push power down to the people,” there are thousands of better ways to do that with $100 million.
A massive voter-registration campaign would be an undeniably beneficial use of the vast treasure Steyer has sitting in his accounts. Funding campaigns and litigation to fight the GOP’s crusade against universal suffrage would be another. Even just saving the money to spend on down-ballot elections, as Steyer helpfully did in the 2018 midterms, would be an infinitely better and more principled use of his wealth.