Billionaire and climate advocate Tom Steyer has announced he is throwing his hat in the ring for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, seven months after he announced in Iowa that he wouldn’t run.
In January, Steyer said he was content with Elizabeth Warren’s economics and Jay Inslee’s climate focus, and that he’d focus on aiding 2020 Democratic Senate races. However, Steyer now sees an opening to run as a self-made businessman with a progressive message — essentially a foil to Trump. He’s running on a platform of economic justice, anti-corporate interests, and climate action, and plans to spend $100 million on his campaign, a spokesperson said.
“If this [country] is a banana republic with a few very very rich people and everybody else living in misery — that’s a failure,” Steyer said in his announcement video, over footage of a Flint, Michigan, water tower and raging wildfires.
Steyer’s relatively late candidacy comes at a time when candidates trailing below 1 percent support may be considering dropping out of the race — California Rep. Eric Swalwell withdrew his name just Monday — and a group of frontrunners is already forming.
Steyer has the environmental activist resume to be seen as another “climate candidate,” challenging Inslee, who has yet to reach 1 percent in the polls. However, at the launch of his campaign, it seems Steyer has chosen to go the route of railing against money in politics (while, incidentally, being a person who funnels money into politics). Where we might have gotten another climate candidate, we seem to have gotten instead an Elizabeth Warren-esque populist message. (But, perhaps, without the same grassroots support.)
Steyer made his millions (or rather, billion) as a hedge fund manager, founding his own firm, Farallon Capital. After a hike with 350.org founder Bill McKibben, Steyer left finance to focus on activism and climate advocacy, and founded NextGen Climate (now NextGen America) in 2013. The organization has served simultaneously as an organizing power and a super PAC, doing things like registering people to vote while also being a vessel for Steyer to donate to climate-friendly candidates in battleground states.
All of this has earned Steyer the designation of the green-minded answer to the conservative Koch brothers. According to Vox, Steyer gave about $100 million in total to candidates in the 2016 elections, to the Koch brothers’ estimated $225 million (Steyer’s wealth is a just a fraction of that of the Koch brothers’).
Steyer, then, is a billionaire with a history of using his wealth to influence politics, running on a platform of … getting money out of politics. So why did he choose this focus over zeroing in on climate? Perhaps Inslee’s campaign has shown that being the “climate candidate” isn’t enough on its own to sway voters. Steyer and Inslee’s camps hadn’t responded to a request for comment by time of publication.
Other candidates with strong climate plans, like Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke, seem to be making progress on the issue without making it central to their candidacy. Warren managed to work climate-related answers into many of her debate answers, despite few questions on the subject. And Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg weaved it into his responses about working-class farmers in middle America.
Some are already critical of the billionaire’s late bid for the White House: He’s missed one debate already and will miss the second, if he doesn’t show up in polling by July 16. In running, he may spend millions on his campaign that could otherwise go to Senate races. For now, it seems we have a billionaire populist jumping into an already strange and crowded 2020 field.