Biggest Dem donor thinks party needs new message

Tom Steyer spent $87 million on the 2016 elections, and all he got was a Trump administration full of nominees he opposes.

The liberal billionaire, who funded Democratic campaigns across the country and ballot measures in his home state of California, said in an interview he intends to remain involved in politics now that President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE has taken office.

He said he still believes most voters agree with Democratic ideals, though the party didn’t effectively convey them in November.

“I think there’s no doubt that we reflect the will of the people to an overwhelming extent. I don’t think we were successful in conveying the spirit behind those policies, and I don’t think we were successful in transmitting the urgency behind those policies,” Steyer told The Hill.

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While the economy added millions of jobs under former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMillennial momentum means trouble for the GOP Biden's Cuba problem: Obama made a bet and lost Democrats need a coherent response to attacks on critical race theory MORE, the recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression brought with it stagnant wage growth. Steyer said that drove voters away from Democrats, who shepherded the slow-growth economy during Obama’s eight years in office.

“This election was not about jobs, in my opinion. It was about pay,” Steyer said.

Now, as Trump gets comfortable in the West Wing, Steyer is considering how best to use his money and the nascent political organization he has built.

Many Democrats in California expected Steyer to launch his own bid for elected office after November’s election, most likely by running to replace term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown (D). But Steyer, who is close to several other candidates already running for governor or contemplating bids behind the scenes, said the election results made him think twice. 

He had expected to make a decision about whether to run for governor, he said, in a world in which Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE had taken the presidential oath of office, not Trump.

“The truth of the matter is, it’s different. The world did not play out on November 8 the way I expected it to, and I want to make sure whatever I do is well considered and responds to the reality of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m still intending to do the most impactful service I can in terms of standing up for the values I care most about.”

Those actions, most notably a focus on combating climate change, will come through Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action group, which has funded advertisements and built a field team since 2012. The group says it knocked on ten million doors and established presences on 370 college campuses last year. 

“We’re going to continue that effort,” Steyer said of NextGen.

Steyer said climate change issues can appeal to middle-class Americans, but only if those issues are cast as an economic appeal.

“On an economic basis, acting on clean energy is positive in every single fashion, including creating millions of net good jobs,” Steyer said. “No one votes for polar bears. People care about local, human issues, period.”

Steyer also helped bankroll a ballot measure raising taxes on cigarettes in California, and appeared in television advertisements touting the measure — a signal most observers interpreted as a way to raise his profile ahead of a gubernatorial bid.

But after voters spurned Democrats in 2016, the gubernatorial bid looks less likely — or at least less certain. 

“What I do as an individual in terms of making decisions, I haven’t decided yet,” Steyer said.