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Is billionaire Tom Steyer serious about impeaching Trump or just building his brand?

Billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer has been coy about whether he plans to challenge U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein next year. But on Friday he committed to running at least one political campaign: impeaching President Trump.

Well, not a political campaign exactly, since impeachment is not something that can be decided by a vote of the people. Voters can recall governors (and in California we have done so fairly recently), but it takes Congress to impeach a president.

What Steyer has launched is more of a $10-million advertising campaign touting both his cause and himself. A slick video starring Steyer kicked off the impeachment campaign, NeedToImpeach.com, as a way to encourage “average citizens” like himself to petition their representatives in Congress to do the moral thing and work to overthrow a man they know is a “clear and present danger who is mentally unstable and armed with nuclear weapons.”

From one perspective, this seems like a terribly foolish investment so long as Republicans are in control of Congress. They have had ample time over the last nine months to denounce their party’s standard-bearer-from-hell and haven’t done so. How does a message from a liberal tree-hugger from California change things?

Why not invest in some key midterm elections instead? Why not underwrite single-issue ads for healthcare, climate change or Trump’s tax plan that draw the clear line between Trump’s actions and the effects on the American people? Surely those efforts would produce a better return on investment than pushing impeachment when even most Democratic members of Congress aren’t on board. Yes, San Fernando Valley Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman introduced articles of impeachment this summer, but his effort hasn’t gained much traction.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board isn’t on the impeachment train, either, though earlier this year we outlined our deep concerns about President Trump’s presidency and the lasting damage it may have on the nation’s future. (The closest we came was to declare that the country had entered the Impeachment Zone, a figurative space my colleagues used to describe the board’s position that, while impeachment is not entirely out of the question, it’s not time yet.)

But maybe this campaign isn’t just about impeachment. According to Forbes, the former hedge fund manager and founder of NextGen America is worth $1.61 billion, and he’s quite willing spend a considerable amount of money in the service of his political values. In 2016 alone, Steyer spent more than $91 million to support the campaigns of Democratic candidates.

In that context, he’s got nothing to lose by funding a $10-million campaign that casts himself as the ultimate anti-Trump and reaches Democrats outside of California desperate for someone to rescue them from the current political nightmare. Also, if his long game is helping flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives to the Democrats in 2018 (and it really should be), spotlighting members of Congress who are enabling Trump complements that effort.

No matter how you look at Steyer’s new mission, quixotic or heroic, ultimately it can’t but help raise his public profile should he eventually settle on a political race to run.

mariel.garza@latimes.com

Follow me @marielgarzaLAT

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