After flirting with a presidential bid, billionaire Tom Steyer announced Wednesday he would not seek the 2020 Democratic nomination but rather focus on leading a grass-roots effort to drive President Trump from office.
“Most people come to Iowa around this time to announce a campaign for president,” Steyer said at a news conference in Des Moines. “But I am proud to be here to announce that I will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to remove a president.”
The rationale was the same that Steyer offered a year ago in ruling out a try for California governor. Earlier, he considered a 2016 run for U.S. Senate before deferring to Democrat Kamala Harris, who won the seat and is now plotting a 2020 White House bid.
Steyer ventured further this time, laying the groundwork for a potential campaign, sizing up staff and visiting several of the states key to the nominating process, including early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire. He didn’t entirely rule out a try for president, cracking the door slightly by saying he was not running “at this time.”
However, should he reverse course some months from now, Steyer would be a late entry in what may be the most crowded and diverse field of presidential candidates either party has ever fielded.
Though he has never sought public office, Steyer, 61, is hardly a political novice. He has contributed tens of millions of dollars to left-leaning candidates and political causes, making him one of the country’s most prolific political donors.
After making a fortune as a San Francisco hedge-fund manager, he spent the better part of the last decade rebranding himself as a philanthropist, environmental crusader and, most recently, tormentor of Trump, whom he described Wednesday as “lawless, reckless” and “dangerous.”
Steyer traveled the country last year and spent millions on TV ads promoting the president’s impeachment, garnering millions of signatures in an online petition but antagonizing many Democratic leaders — including House Speaker and fellow San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi — by pursuing what, to their minds, is a misguided and politically counterproductive effort.
He brushed aside the notion that campaigning for Trump’s ouster, rather than challenging him directly at the ballot box, was any less brave or formidable a task. “If you’re saying … that that’s the layup that I fall back on,” he said Wednesday in response to a reporter, “I would have to say to you I’m taking on what I think is the biggest possible challenge I could.”
Raised comfortably on New York’s Upper East Side, Steyer graduated from Yale University and Stanford University business school, then worked on Wall Street before moving to California and founding Farallon Capital Management, a hedge fund, in 1986.
His previous political forays have met with mixed success.
In 2010, Steyer financed a California ballot measure that beat back repeal of the state’s landmark law fighting climate change, and in 2012 he backed another voter-approved initiative that increased taxes $1 billion for out-of-state corporations to pay for conservation and alternative energy programs.
Steyer was less successful in 2014, when he spent $74 million — most from his own pocket — in a failed effort to make climate change a central issue in the midterm campaign. Republicans won big and elected the most environmentally hostile Congress in years.
Steyer declined to throw his support behind any of the many Democrats eyeing the White House, saying an endorsement would be premature. “I don’t know what the field of 2020 candidates is,” he said. “Before I would even comment I’d like to see who actually declares for the presidency and what they have to say.”