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Q&A: Left-wing billionaire Tom Steyer says failing to flip House in 2018 would be a 'disaster'

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 07. 2018 10:35PM

Left-wing billionaire Tom Steyer is bringing his Need to Impeach campaign to New Hampshire July 11 and 12, 2018. 

BOW - The left-wing California hedge-fund billionaire leading a national movement to attempt to impeach President Trump brings his movement to New Hampshire for two days this week.

Tom Steyer will hold a town hall-style forum at Fieldhouse Sports in Bow beginning Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

Since launching his effort, Steyer's Need to Impeach campaign has spent more than $20 million on television and radio ads in addition to the cross-country tour.

The effort has galvanized a petition drive attracting 5.5 million signatures, most of them from disaffected Americans.

On Thursday, Steyer plans to host a canvassing event and perhaps do some grass-roots campaigning for his other venture, NextGen America, a national effort to mobilize more young people to vote in future elections. Steyer's group was active during the 2014 and 2016 elections and intends to spend $30 million - mostly in 10 targeted states - for the midterm elections, including between $750,000 and $1 million in New Hampshire.

Steyer remains a polarizing figure, a hero to his many followers, and, to critics, a political opportunist bent on running for President himself in 2020.

"The Left's disdain for our President is made especially clear when Tom Steyer comes to New Hampshire to push for impeachment," New Hampshire Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald said. "Our economy is breaking records, peace is being achieved around the world, and our country is moving in the right direction in many other ways. Any talk of impeachment is just ludicrous - Democrats need to get over their 2016 election loss and move on."

Some Democratic leaders have condemned Steyer's effort and warn that it is energizing Trump's Make America Great Again base to turn out for an election they would ordinarily sit out.

The following is an excerpt of a telephone interview in advance of Steyer's visit to New Hampshire this week. It has been edited for length.

Q: What would you consider to be a sign of success for your campaign with midterm election results?

A: This campaign has far exceeded what we expected when we started. Our sort of go-to principles were like in sports - at the end of the game you make your best move and try to get your opponent to try and stop it.

Our go-to move has been to tell the truth, stand up for democracy and stand up for the American people.

If you told me we would have five and a half million people sign our petition, that's a ridiculous success.

I can tell you one thing that will be a success. Over 60 percent of those who signed our petition don't vote because they don't trust the system, they don't think politicians tell them the truth and that democracy has been stolen by monied special and corporate interests. If we have engaged them in a level that they participate, that is a huge change.

We have set a goal that regardless of whether we can control it or not - and we can't if the House doesn't flip - it is a disaster. The Republicans control 31 governor houses, 69 out of 99 legislative bodies, both branches of Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court - all of the federal government.

Q: Does it bother you that many Democratic candidates and officeholders reject the aims of your movement and even publicly ridicule it?

A: I would separate that into two things. I would say the institutional, inside-the-beltway Democrats, what they are saying is if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Democrats are going to turn out anyway and the Republicans won't have any reason to vote if we just lay low.

We are dealing with the largest demographic that turns out at half the rate of the rest of the population. Our answer is don't tell them the truth one more time and that will inspire them to come out and vote.

Q: At any point does it concern you that this movement is pushing the Democratic Party so far left that it is less electable in the future?

A: We are seeing a generational change in the Democratic Party. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez beats the No. 4 Democrat in the Democratic Party, Joe Crowley.

Look at what happened. In Virginia, we were organizing the immigration rights community, the Democrat easily wins the race for governor and 15 seats flipped in the House of Delegates from red to blue. The first transgender woman, two of the first-generation citizens win. There is a generational shift. We think that telling the truth is a big part of it.... Look at 2016, the two people who really won that election. The answer was Bernie Sanders, who was not a registered Democrat, and Donald Trump, who was not really a Republican. I think the American people were sending a message.

Q: What prospects do you have for this message and your NextGen efforts here in New Hampshire?

A: There's two messages. At NextGen, the grass-roots work we are doing with young people in the state, that we have been doing since 2014. We are on all 18 campuses here in New Hampshire, including seven community colleges.

People under 35 voted at about half the rate as other citizens. In New Hampshire, we have 18 staff and fellows, and that will be up to 31 on Election Day. That doesn't include volunteers that would be a multiple of that.

We are a grass-roots organization, we believe the answers to our problems are more democracy, more participation. If they aren't part of our democracy, then we don't have a representative democracy.

Q: Are the responses at these 20 town halls all the same or do they vary by where they take place?

A: It is actually incredibly fun. It is great to travel around and meet people all over the country.

There is some consistency (in the responses) but also some regional differences. The biggest takeaway from all of these town halls is the people who come are patriots, they are worried about the course of our country, they are often (veterans) who feel they have sacrificed for their democracy and want to make sure they are handing off a country of some value.

The biggest takeaway for us is this emotional patriotism and bond to our country. What is interesting is how it gets expressed. Different parts of the country have different styles. There are different ways that people respond and different ways they expressed how they are feeling.

Q: Has all this experience in the last three election cycles made you more fired-up about running for President some day or much less likely to do so?

A: It has actually been an incredible educational experience in terms of learning something every single day. ... I remember back in 2014 or 2015 the experience of sitting in Manchester in some small brick office building talking to a bunch of business people about clean energy, I think it was. I asked what was the biggest issue. They said opioids, that 10 percent of the people were addicted to heroin as well. That's why you have to sit face-to-face with people or you would never learn this stuff.

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