Tom Steyer Explains Why He Decided to Run for President
Steyer has clear obstacles ahead. Democratic voters don’t tend to respond well to self-funding candidates, typically viewing their intentions with suspicion. And July is late for a candidate to get into the race: Elizabeth Warren kicked off primary season when she announced her run on New Year’s Eve, and Representative Eric Swalwell of California just this week became the first candidate to drop out. Steyer, who said earlier this year that he wouldn’t run for president, is hoping his campaign will provide yet another example of how the rules have changed in American politics—that his timing, no matter how frustrating to Democrats, won’t affect his performance on the trail. I spoke with Steyer by phone on Tuesday afternoon about how he thinks he fits into the field and what separates him from Donald Trump. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Edward-Isaac Dovere: You announced you weren’t running for president in January. Now you’ve announced that you are. What changed?
Tom Steyer: What I said in January is that I’m not going to do this now, because I believe I have a responsibility to pursue impeachment. At that point, we had about 6 million people who had signed our petition [on the Need to Impeach website, demanding Congress begin removing Trump from office]. We were still kind of a lone voice in the wilderness saying this president is the most corrupt in history—that he is unfit for the office, dangerous for the country, dangerous for the Constitution, dangerous to the rule of law, dangerous to the American people. And I felt like we couldn’t abandon those 6 million people, and we had to make that case.
I think in the last six months, a lot of things have changed. First of all, I think we won the argument. All those people in Washington, D.C., who were giving us a hard time have come to admit that everything we’ve been saying in the last 21 months is true.
Dovere: But we’re still not any closer to impeachment.
Steyer: We won the argument. What we were asking for, really, are a series of public, televised hearings, so that the American people, whose voice we were trying to organize—who we felt were the actual judge and jury—could be brought in, informed, and engaged. And we’ve had one hearing in the first six-and-a-half months of this year, which was Michael Cohen back in February. We made the case and won the argument. We have a much stronger coalition.
The second thing that happened is, I was watching how this campaign was going, and in my opinion, the overriding issue today is that the politics of our country, the government, has been taken over by corporate dollars. We have a broken government as a result of corruption from corporations. The solution to that, the only solution to that, is retaking the democracy and returning the power to the people. All of the policy [plans in the Democratic primary] that are [being] hotly debated are important, nuanced, thoughtful, smart—but not going to happen.