SAN FRANCISCO — California billionaire and progressive activist Tom Steyer will travel to Iowa on Wednesday to disclose whether he will run for president in 2020, but unlike other potential Democratic candidates, he is outspoken in his belief that President Trump must be impeached and removed, rather than just voted out of office.
“I think that he is the most corrupt president in American history,” Steyer said of Trump in an interview Tuesday with Yahoo News. “He is very destructive to our country and to the American people. Getting rid of him is a statement that we believe in the rule of law and in civil society.”
A group founded by Steyer in October 2017, Need to Impeach, is airing television ads in early-primary and caucus states, including Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, trying to persuade legislators to remove Trump from office, despite the potential for social and political upheaval. To date, Need to Impeach’s website has gathered more than 6.5 million signatures in support of that goal.
“No one wants this,” Steyer, 61, said of what he sees as the imperative of forcing Trump from office. “It isn’t based on policy distinctions, this is based on the idea that he is corrupt, that he is a threat to the country, that he has both met the criteria to be impeached, clearly and overwhelmingly, but also that it’s urgent to get him out of office because he’s so destructive to the country.”
A former hedge fund manager and the founder of the investment firm Farallon Capital Management, Steyer pledged in 2010 to donate at least half of his wealth to charity. Two years later, he turned away from the private sector to devote himself to promoting environmental causes. In the 2018 midterms, he spent roughly $120 million in support of Democratic candidates and on an ambitious campaign to register millions of young voters across the country and motivate them to go to the polls.
While Steyer’s efforts may have helped Democrats take back the House of Representatives, a presidential run, if he undertakes one, would face steep odds.
In a CNN poll of likely candidates in early December, he received 0 percent support.
Since then, Steyer has worked to lay out a platform for a post-Trump era, his “5 Steps” for restoring American democracy. They include: the right to an equal vote, the right to clean air and clean water, the right to a free quality public education, the right to earn a living wage and the right to universal health care.
The problem for Steyer is that the Democratic Party has skewed left over the past few presidential cycles, making his ideas feel less unique in a field that will likely include liberal heavyweights such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“At least in the state of California, there are two distinct wings of the Democratic Party, the progressive and the moderate, and I think I’m on the progressive side, no question about it,” Steyer told Yahoo News. “I have a very clear conception in my head about what I think the role of government and civil society is, and what the role of the private sector is.”
Like Warren, Steyer says he isn’t opposed to capitalism, but he bemoans the turn American democracy took in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, who he says regularly portrayed government as “inefficient and corrupt.”
“There’s been a hostile corporate takeover of our government,” Steyer said. “In fact, the values and priorities of this society should be set by the government, because we have an elected government so it represents the will of the people. The idea that the private sector and corporations could subvert that function and make the government act according to corporate needs is a breakdown in civil society.”
Before any Democrat lands in the White House, he or she must figure out a way to get past Trump. Even if he doesn’t end up running, Steyer believes Americans shouldn’t wait for Robert Mueller’s report on the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the 2016 presidential election, nor for the electorate to vote him out in 2020. The damage Trump is inflicting on the country justifies immediate action, Steyer said.
“Right now, just as an example on the urgency question, he is holding America hostage, to try to fulfill an extremely expensive and foolish campaign promise that even the Republicans don’t support,” Steyer said. “His answer is, basically, ‘I’m going to make Americans suffer until you give in to me because I want it, even though no one else thinks it’s intelligent.’”
For the moment, Steyer is the only potential Democratic presidential candidate pushing to impeach Trump. While Need to Impeach’s website continues to rack up signatures (and bank email addresses that would be invaluable to Steyer or any other candidate), the real test for Steyer will be whether he can convince voters that his other ideas are worth a look.
“I view this as at least a two-step process. All of the things I’m talking about, the whole positive message that has to replace this intellectually and morally bankrupt vision that we’re working off, is predicated on getting rid of this president.”
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