It is hard to imagine how anyone at this point could look at the sea of contenders for the Democratic presidential nod and think the party needs one more. The field seems to have sorted itself into a group of front-tier competitors — former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, and maybe, just maybe, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — with the remainder of the contenders seemingly stuck at the 1 percent or 2 percent mark, if that. In fact, the exits are beginning, with Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, pulling out of the race.
But never underestimate the arrogance of billionaires.
Over the weekend, the Atlantic reported that impeachment and climate activist Tom Steyer, estimated net worth $1.6 billion, will announce on Tuesday he’s entering the race. His reasons? According to the Atlantic, he’s concerned that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose signature issue is climate change, is not getting more traction in the polls or fundraising support. He’s also convinced that a self-made man with progressive economics, like, er, himself, is just the ticket to take out President Donald Trump.
Steyer, 62, who made his fortune in hedge funds, is probably best known for using millions upon millions of his own dollars to persuade Americans to support impeaching Trump. He’s run Internet ads and television ads, often starring himself, arguing for the position. He’ll also come to the campaign table with some organizing chops, courtesy of the advocacy groups he funds, NextGen America, which fights for action on climate change, and Need to Impeach. More than 6 million people have signed a petition put out by the latter to say they support impeaching Trump.
I believe Steyer is well intentioned. After all, he’s not planning to run on a platform to protect his fortune, or crankily arguing that both parties are the problem. Despite the fact that Steyer’s money is self-made, his economic message is in many ways similar to Warren’s populist tone. He is, for the most part, in the right when it comes to his chosen causes. Climate change will irrevocably alter life as we know it for future generations unless we take immediate action. Trump is utterly unfit for the White House and should be impeached for any number of reasons — his own personal corruption, his repeated violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution and, of course, the repeated attempts at obstruction of justice outlined in the Muller report. Steyer’s not bashing millennials and Gen Z — if anything, he’s spending some part of his fortune attempting to increase the power of their voices in our politics.
But his virtuous politics can’t disguise the truth: He’s buying his way into a race he’s got no business entering. The issue with our billionaire-driven politics isn’t just that the (mostly) men with the money are ill-intentioned (though it certainly doesn’t help that many of them define the national interest in such a way that it seems to benefit them personally). It’s that their money gives them an outsize influence, no matter what their positions. Steyer has never held elected office, and there’s no evidence the public is clamoring for his candidacy. That being said, Steyer is performing one valuable service, albeit inadvertently: He’s demonstrating again that the last thing we need is another billionaire thinking he deserves a term in the White House.
Helaine Olen is a contributor to Washington Post Opinions. She serves on the advisory board of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.