What began as a progressive pipe dream – that a rabble-rousing senator from the nation’s second least populous state could wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from one of the most well-known politicians in recent history – is starting to seem plausible.
Democrats have long trod carefully around the “I” word. But as the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election victory approaches, a prominent donor is pressuring lawmakers and candidates on the left to make impeachment a central message of their campaigns in 2018.
In October, Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager turned environmental activist, launched a “eight-figure” ad campaign demanding that elected officials and candidates in his party “take a stand” on removing Trump from office.
Steyer – who said he is “not ruling out” running for office himself in 2018 – has a list of reasons why he believes Trump should be impeached, which he has also outlined in a letter to congressional lawmakers.
He says Trump has put the country on a path toward nuclear war, obstructed justice by firing the FBI director, James Comey, violated the emoluments clause by taking money from foreign governments, and threatened to close news organizations whose reporting he doesn’t like.
That list, he noted, was created before the news last week that special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian had yielded two indictments and a guilty plea.
“This campaign is a reflection of the fact that we are in a crisis and that is not how it’s represented in the press and that is not how it’s reflected in Washington,” Steyer said. He added that the indictments of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and another aide, Rick Gates, and guilty plea by a former adviser, George Papadopoulos, “clearly put impeachment on the table”.
Steyer’s campaign has drawn rebuke from the president. After the ad played during a segment on Fox & Friends, a show Trump regularly watches, the president lashed out.
“Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer, who has been fighting me and my Make America Great Again agenda from beginning, never wins elections!” Trump said.
Steyer said he wasn’t involved in the decision to place the ad during Fox & Friends but he welcomed the attention it brought to the campaign.
“I think the fact that he responded so defensively actually drew more attention to what we were trying to do,” Steyer said. “And to that I say, ‘Thank you.’ If he wants to tweet angrily at us, we would encourage him to do that as much as I can.”
The TV and digital ads will run in all 50 states, the campaign said. And many liberals outside California, where Steyer lives, his digital and TV ads will be their first introduction to the Democratic patron.
“A Republican Congress once impeached a president for far less,” Steyer says in the ad, referring to Bill Clinton. “Yet today people in Congress and his own administration know that this president is a clear and present danger who’s mentally unstable and armed with nuclear weapons and they do nothing.”Starring in ads, Steyer calls Trump a “clear and present danger” and calmly lays out what he views is a case for impeachment. A petition accompanying the campaign has already gathered more than 1.5 million signatures, he said.
Impeachment must begin in the House of Representatives. Steyer argues that voters deserve to know whether congressional Democrats will act if they retake the chamber next year.
Only a handful of lawmakers are openly in favor of impeachment. So far, Democratic leaders have urged colleagues to wait for investigators to conclude their work.
The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, Steyer’s representative in Congress, has mused that Trump could “self-impeach” but has reportedly discouraged any discussions on the topic from within her own caucus. Instead she is urging Democrats to focus their energy on derailing Republicans’ tax reform. On Sunday, she told CNN’s State of the Union impeachment was “not some place I think we should go”.
But in a sign calls for impeachment are gaining traction in Washington, Luis GutiÃ©rrez, a Democrat of Illinois, said last week that a group of Democrats would file articles of impeachment before Thanksgiving.
“I think it is time that we begin to have that conversation,” GutiÃ©rrez said during a breakfast at the City Club of Chicago, adding that Trump was an “ill-fit” for the office. GutiÃ©rrez also stressed that the group was working independently and was not supported by Pelosi or the Democratic party.
That group would join Democrats Al Green and Brad Sherman, who have introduced articles of impeachment though neither appear to be moving forward. Green recently said he would attempt to force a vote on impeaching Trump, but the effort was quickly abandoned.
Polling suggests public support for impeachment is growing. A recent survey by the Public Policy Poll found a “record level of support for impeaching Trump”, with 49% of respondents saying they were in favor and 41% saying they were not.
Steyer has said he is considering running for the US senate, challenging Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, who is seeking a fifth term. Feinstein has refused to back calls for impeachment, urging “patience” and expressing hope that Trump might yet be a “good president”.
In his letter, Steyer writes: “It is evident that there is zero reason to believe ‘he can be a good president.’”
Impeachment is more popular among Democrats than Republicans – making it a particularly good proposal to follow should Steyer run in California, a blue state that has relished its role resisting Trump.