Opinion

Tom Steyer's showboating presidential campaign will hurt Democrats

He has no chance to win, but he can still do plenty of damage

For a period of less than 24 hours between Monday and Tuesday, the hillside was pearled with dew, the lark was on the wing, God was in His heaven, and all was right in the world. The 2020 Democratic primary field had briefly been reduced to a mere 24 candidates after Rep. (or Gov. or former Sen. or whatever) Eric Swalwell of (a state somewhere, I guess) announced that he was withdrawing from the contest.

It was over before anyone could appreciate it. On Tuesday morning Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund manager and Democratic donor extraordinaire, announced his own candidacy, reversing a decision he had made in January to restrict himself to fundraising in this election. Now, he says, he is not only running for his party's presidential nomination; he is also willing to spend a lot of money to secure it. A hundred million dollars is (organic) chicken feed to Steyer.

This is a terrible idea for everyone involved. Steyer might be richer than Trump, but he is not a compelling speaker. His candidacy will only delay the inevitable winnowing that should take place for the Democrats sooner rather than later. At the margin, having the extra obscure congressman or small-town mayor in the race does not matter much (except to those of us who have to remember their names) because no one takes these people seriously. But even though Steyer is a hopeless candidate, he will still be considered a serious one. His considerable fortune could keep him in the race for an unnaturally long time.

But there are two even greater risks posed by Steyer's pointless vanity campaign. The first is simply that the earnings from his vast and somewhat dodgy business empire could be put to much better use helping Democrats win state and local elections, carrying ballot initiatives, challenging GOP legislation in the courts, and, eventually, supporting whoever ends up being the party's actual nominee. You know, the equally expensive but more or less unglamorous stuff that probably won't get you invitations to Meet the Press every other week.

The second problem Democrats should have with Steyer is his obsession with impeachment. If a recent interview with The Atlantic is any indication, impeachment is going to be for him what climate change is to Jay Inslee. But impeachment is not a priority for anyone outside certain segments of the Democratic base. It polls very badly in Michigan and other states that Democrats actually need to win in 2020, even among people who otherwise say that they do not support Donald Trump. It also has little chance of success in the House, and absolutely none of leading to the president's removal from office by the Senate. Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the party establishment know this only too well, which is why they have used the special counsel investigation and the various follow-up hearings to undermine Trump's presidency without bothering about the i-word. Any attempt to make it a wedge issue in 2020 will hurt the chances of the eventual nominee. Under no circumstances should Joe Biden or Kamala Harris or Bernie Sanders come out in favor of it, no matter how many times Steyer brings it up in debates or whines about it in ads.

What Steyer is showing us is that he has not absorbed the central lesson of either Hillary Clinton's failure in 2016 or his party's victories in the 2018 midterms, namely, that Democrats have to run for certain things — jobs, health care, education — and not simply against Trump. Steyer is totally insulated from the actual priorities of rank-and-file Democrats. He seems to be under the impression that the average person in Middle America is some kind of woke tech worker who comes home from the office, throws some bananas and cauliflower in the blender, puts his feet up, and reads The Washington Post-annotated print edition of the Mueller report while sipping on their smoothie.

The thing where an aloof rich white person doesn't understand politics and the host of Celebrity Apprentice wins the White House happened once already. If Steyer (who, like most rich people, is used to getting what he wants) has his way, it will happen again in 2020.

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