Tom Steyer's Campaign to Get Trump Impeached Gets Huge Boon as Numbers Soar.
The following was first reported by Politico:
"When billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer launched a digital petition drive to impeach President Donald Trump two months ago, some Democratic Party leaders dismissed it as an unhelpful vanity project — and even Steyer thought he’d top out at a million signatures.
But nearly 4 million digital signatures later, the philanthropist and environmental activist’s unlikely campaign has seized on an issue — impeaching Trump — that could become part of the Democratic mainstream in 2018. It's placed at his fingertips a potentially powerful tool: an email list of millions of motivated activists whom he can reach instantly for organizing and fundraising and that could become the hottest trove of data in Democratic politics since the email list that Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign against Hillary Clinton collected in 2016
Steyer's digital success is fueling intense curiosity about what he’ll do with that tool — and whether he’ll use it beyond his California base for a White House bid of his own.
“That’s how you build a grass-roots operations for a presidential campaign. And if you are that guy who started this, that’s certainly a leg up in organizing a 50-state strategy,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant in California who is advising former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, in his gubernatorial campaign. “That’s what he’s building, and it’s probably second only to Bernie Sanders’ list, and may be eclipsing it. Every election cycle has its own dynamics, and whoever is tapping into the sentiments of their own base usually has an advantage.”
Despite the opposition of party leadership, Madrid said Steyer has shown “there’s a huge vacuum for somebody like Tom Steyer to come in and tap into the activist base — and even beyond that — where some are willing to sign up.”
Campaign experts say Steyer’s petition drive is breaking new ground in digital organizing in the nontraditional political terrain of the Trump era, though it’s been anchored by an traditional media onslaught — national television ads that have been running nonstop since Oct. 20. So far, 3.73 million people have signed on to Steyer’s NeedToImpeach.com drive, which has brought his message into the living rooms of millions of average Americans.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week showed 41 percent of Americans now back impeachment hearings — higher than the percentage that would support Trump in a 2020 election. And in a recent vote, 58 House Democrats backed Rep. Al Green’s call for impeachment — a dramatic shift from the two who supported impeachment at the start of Steyer’s drive in October.
Steyer himself acknowledged shock at the avalanche of grass-roots support for Trump’s impeachment in a recent interview, amid clear disapproval from Democratic Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who have suggested that it distracts from the party’s agenda. “We have tapped into something much larger than we thought,’’ Steyer said in a recent C-SPAN interview. He says he’s upped his original goal of 1 million signatures to 5 million.
As one of country’s leading political donors in 2016, and a major party activist in California on issues like climate change, Steyer has long been the focus of buzz about a possible 2018 run for governor or the U.S. Senate. But the impeachment drive has fueled speculation that he could be even eyeing a run for the White House.
Asked about his political intentions in a C-SPAN "Newsmakers" interview to air this week, Steyer gave some of his most expansive comments to date. “I haven’t ruled it out, and I’m actually trying to determine what will have the most positive differential impact,’’ Steyer said. “I’m absolutely ambitious … to try and be part of the group of people who gets America back on a just and prosperous course.”
While Steyer acknowledged that “I have to make this decision fairly soon,’’ he added that the determining factor will be “what can I do to stand up against what I consider to be a deep threat to the safety and health of the American people.”
Political insiders say that Steyer’s most recent effort — which he says represents an investment of more than $20 million — represents a game-changer in how political players use digital media.
“He’s not only communicating to a national audience through a massive nationwide ad buy, but he’s also running an intense digital campaign,’’ noted Dave Jacobson, a veteran Democratic consultant in California. “Tom Steyer is broadening his footprint digitally. And if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that conventional norms have been flipped — and your traditional cookie-cutter campaigning doesn’t apply. Digital is king.”
“I think it begs the question of whether or not he’s running for president in 2020,’’ said Jacobson, who’s also a regular CNN analyst. “He’s set his sights on building up a national apparatus; he’s capitalizing on the new norm, which is digital persuasion.’’
Erik Olvera, communications director for NeedtoImpeach.com, notes that the effort has “increased dramatically within a very short period of time — and we’ve grown the campaign into something that’s huge.”
“A digital army”
As a result, Steyer — once known largely to Democratic political insiders and deep-pocketed donors — has become something of a celebrity to average voters and grass-roots activists.
“He’s literally walking down the street, and people are stopping him, thanking him, congratulating him” — and asking him to pose for selfies, Olvera said.
Steyer’s goal has been to create “a digital army, this movement all through digital platforms,’’ Olvera said. “He’s reached out to millions of people through Facebook and Twitter — and he has made them feel part of something.”
One example: Steyer’s drive last Tuesday launched what’s known in the digital world as a “thunderclap” — a platform that allowed him to tap millions of activists in his base and see if they wanted to participate en masse in a specific action. In this case, 37,000 NeedtoImpeach.com followers signed on, gave their credentials and then — “all at the exact same time, posted or tweeted” their impeachment message on Facebook and Twitter," said Olvera. The move appears to have reached more than 18 million online, Olvera said.
Steyer also launched a 2½-minute video on Facebook last week, which argued that Trump has already committed multiple impeachable offenses, along with a new TV ad on Christmas Day that first ran on Facebook.
Steyer, pressed on how he might use the power of his impeachment movement and his email list, told C-SPAN, “it’s true that people signing up gives us communication with people. But it’s not so much we’re trying to use them. ... The question is: How can we use the collective voice of Americans to change the debate ... and to let that voice be heard — so that the American people’s will can be followed.”
“That’s what that list is really for: These people’s voice, together, can be an incredibly strong force for change,’’ he argued.
But some skeptical Democrats suggest he may be overplaying the value of his movement and his email list — both to the party and to his own political aspirations.
Still relatively unknown
“I don’t know what it’s worth to him,’’ said veteran Democratic strategist Garry South, a former senior adviser to former California Gov. Gray Davis, and an adviser to presidential candidates Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. “People who put their name on a petition to impeach the president are not necessarily givers to a future campaign. It won’t mean all of a sudden 4 million people will send him money,’’ he said.
And South said he would prefer to see Steyer use his money elsewhere to aid the Democratic agenda. “I’d rather he take his big money and buy up big media outlets like Sinclair Broadcasting,’’ the conservative media giant that is snapping up dozens of TV stations nationwide, South said.
“As much as I hate Trump, I think [the impeachment drive] is off-message for Democrats,’’ he said. “Remember, a Democratic president — Bill Clinton — was impeached by Republicans, and it boomeranged on them.”
Pollster Mark DiCamillo of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California Berkeley said his recent polling in December underscored the hurdles for Steyer, a figure outside traditional political circles.
In the IGS California poll in December, just 14 percent of likely voters expressed a favorable view of Steyer, versus 9 percent who had an unfavorable view — and 77 percent had no opinion, DiCamillo noted. “It’s kind of an eye-opener, literally, the difficulty these people have becoming known in the state like California, where voters are only casually paying attention.”
Still, Steyer has caught the attention of Trump, who name-checked him on Twitter as being “wacky” and “totally unhinged."
And that’s playing well with Democratic Party activists like Larry Stone, a longtime Democratic fundraiser and a former mayor of Sunnyvale.
“Tom will be a player in the 2018 midterms. I mean, there’s no question about it,” said Stone, who is now Santa Clara County assessor. “Democrats are pretty optimistic right now, with significant justification, and I love Tom Steyer.”
“I don’t believe that it’s in the Democratic Party’s interest to pursue, to seriously pursue impeachment of Donald Trump,’’ he said. “But I think it’s great to talk about it every day.”"