One thing you may have noticed about President Donald Trump is that he is still president and has not been impeached, even though it really feels like he should have been by now. He still personally makes money every time a foreign dignitary or Republican politician visits one of his ghastly hotels or clubs because he never really divested from his businesses, which also make bank from the government. He also seems to have a brain that’s falling apart like a very good sandwich. And yet, it also does not really feel like we’re anywhere close to actually impeaching him.
That hasn’t stopped Tom Steyer, the billionaire Democratic donor, from pouring money into his impeachment non-profit, Need to Impeach. According to Politico, which this morning detailed Steyer’s plans to spend at least $110 million on the 2018 election, Steyer “has already doubled his initial $20 million investment in Need to Impeach to $40 million and has not ruled out adding more.”
In April, the New York Times warned that Republicans might use the specter of impeachment to turn out their voters. Steyer’s team told Politico that their polling of Republicans shows that “at least for now, they’re not motivated by impeachment backlash,” with only 21% of Republicans saying they were “extremely worried” about impeachment.
But $40 million is a lot of money to sink into something that Democratic leadership doesn’t want (meaning that, even if Democrats do take back the House, it’s far from certain that they would take up impeachment) and that would lead to, at the very best outcome, a President Mike Pence, who would undoubtedly be as awful as Trump on climate change, Steyer’s signature issue, in addition to... probably almost every other policy issue.
This is all assuming that the grounds for impeachment are there. One of the “impeachable offenses” listed on Need to Impeach’s site is “Undermining the Freedom of the Press,” which includes calling the media “fake news” and threatening to revoke press access from his critics. I am not a lawyer, but these actions, while bad, do not seem to be an impeachable offenses. The site also specifically cites Trump’s “battles with CNN led him to try to interfere in the AT&T/Time Warner merger” as another ill, which would set the wonderful precedent of impeaching presidents if they’re mean to massive corporations. (Splinter reached out for comment on Steyer’s policy agenda and will update this post if and when we hear back.)
Perhaps, then, the effort is entirely cynical. Perhaps the impeachment nonprofit, with a massive email list Politico reported to be 5.5 million members strong, is not a serious effort to impeach Trump, but just another way to turn out voters for November, particularly those who seem receptive to the impeachment message. It’s hard to say how many voters would be motivated to vote only if they believe there’s a chance of impeaching Trump—Steyer’s group says that their 5.5 million includes 697,780 infrequent voters in the 63 most competitive House districts—but again, it’s not easy to say whether being on the email list is an indication that impeachment, rather than any other issue, is what will motivate people to get to the polls.
Either way, it’s hard to read about $40 million being dumped into an entirely Trump-focused pipe dream when the rot goes so much deeper than him. It’s painful to imagine what could be if Steyer instead spent every cent of that $40 million educating and activating voters around Medicare for all, or criminal justice reform, or free college.
Maybe—and this is just a thought—we shouldn’t have individual billionaires set the agenda for a political party, let alone one that’s supposed to represent working people (but doesn’t). A party run by billionaires, however good their intentions might be, will never do what needs to be done—like ending the existence of billionaires, just as a start.