Helton: 20 Out of 20: Tom Steyer’s campaign has the money but lacks clear path to presidency

He has campaign funding and good intentions, but is that enough to make waves in the candidate pool?


Katina Zentz

NextGen Founder Tom Steyer discusses voting with students at the Pentacrest on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. The organization works to engage students and to help them register to vote in November.

Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

Just when we thought we were starting to cut down our number of Democratic candidates for president, we’ve got another contender. Billionaire businessman and political donor Tom Steyer is the newest addition to the list of people trying to become president of the United States.

What Steyer lacks in name recognition or supporter enthusiasm, he makes up for with more than enough money. He’s worth more than $1 billion thanks to his success as a hedge-fund manager in California. He reminds me a little bit of former New York City Mayor and fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg joked — when asked about his own potential 2020 run — that his donor wasn’t going anywhere.

Bloomberg ultimately decided against a run at the presidency, a choice Steyer seemed to have made as well with a previous statement that he would focus on other issues than a personal presidential campaign. But he’s changed his mind. Steyer and Bloomberg are in the same yacht; he has the money, so why not try to become the most powerful person in the world?

How could Steyer become the Democratic nominee?

Steyer’s politics seem to be largely in step with the mainstream Democratic field as being generally progressive, so setting himself apart based on policy doesn’t seem to be his strategy. Rather, his campaign looks to its messaging style as its calling card.

In the pre-President Trump political universe, a competent and successful businessman might have some real appeal among voters, especially those from the upper classes. If he can run a business, surely he can run the country, right? That appeal might have been more effective before we had a businessman president trying his best to watch the world burn. The idea of a rich guy in charge probably doesn’t look good now, especially to Democrats.

But again, Steyer has money to blow, so he might as well try? I, for one, can’t go for an hour on YouTube without seeing his sincere face pleading with me to help him stand up to Trump. Perhaps that will be enough to get his name out there. Perhaps former Vice President Joe Biden implodes for some reason. Perhaps Steyer fills the void of “older white male capitalist.” There are a lot of perhapses, but that’s what it’s going to take for Steyer to have a realistic shot of turning from donor to nominee.

How could Steyer beat Trump?

Some voters will surely be turned off. In the scenario in which we have two old white male billionaires going at each other. But if Steyer is right — and if he’s somehow the Democratic nominee, he will have been right about a lot — then the majority of the country won’t care too much who the president as long as it’s not the current one.

Before kicking off his run to challenge Trump electorally, Steyer’s main political project was organizing a movement to impeach the incumbent president. If he’s at the top of the ticket, his priority will be clear: Trump needs to go. Of course, this is refrain of practically any re-election challenger, but I’d expect quite a few more direct attacks on Trump than if, say policy-heavy Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., were the nominee.

Maybe he could borrow President Warren Harding’s old campaign theme of a “return to normalcy.” Just let this über-rich capitalist take over. It’ll be different this time. At least he’s not Trump. That’s his pitch, anyway.