ICYMI: Chairman Schlapp on Tom Steyer for Fox News Opinion

Published Date: 
Tue, 2014-08-26

ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp takes on liberal billionaire Tom Steyer in his inaugural opinion piece for Fox News

Like bad reality TV, Billionaire turned Democratic donor Tom Steyer tries his hand at politics.

America is still a great place for countless reasons, but one certainly is that almost anyone can become rich if he or she can combine talent, a unique idea, timing and a bit of moxie. And this country still allows wealthy individuals to take that wealth and spend their time and money on whatever legal pursuit they desire, including campaigns and elections. Liberal hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer is the latest mega-donor to turn his immense talents and resources toward making an impact in American politics. Despite what many progressive commentators lament, American politics is still an arena where anyone has the chance to make a big impact. Just look at the spontaneous effect of Joe the Plumber or the Tea Party phenomenon on the right, or Sandra Fluke on the left.

Although long-term success in politics can be sustained only with substantial financial resources, Tom Steyer is struggling with the converse reality: Having lots of resources is no guarantee of political success. Generally speaking, American voters are not against wealthy people. In fact, America has avoided much of the corrosive effects of class envy because Americans don’t hate rich people, they want to join their ranks.

But beware the billionaires who believe Americans will easily digest their redirection from a pursuit of business success to an attempt to use their resources to reshape politics to their liking, especially when their preferred policies are out of sync with the mainstream of American views, like those of Mr. Steyer. Steyer has transformed from a wealthy hedge fund executive who invested in a variety of projects, including those that encouraged the production and use of fossil fuels. (Warning … shield the sensitive eyes of climate radicals at this point.) Yes, even coal. The hypocrisy of the liberal investor who makes millions in a market and, after having attained vast wealth, tries to close down that same market to others is always the most amazing spectacle. In Steyer’s case, he claims to have had an evolution in his thinking, and that the worries of a changing climate were not always understood. I suppose now that he is rich, putting a bunch of folks on the unemployment line in West Virginia or Kentucky is just fine, because all this is “settled science.”

Steyer’s foray into politics is promising to be like watching bad reality TV: You can’t make it up and it can be hard to turn the channel. Just look at some of the ads his team has created. Makes me wonder if their production room is located on the campus of a liberal arts college in Colorado: “Hey dude, that is wicked funny.” Or if this is a case where the consultants can’t tell the guy with the wallet: “Um, sir, that idea is really stupid.” If you want the best war stories from political consultants, just agree to buy the wine and prime them with queries on self-funding candidates. The bar bill may be large, but so will be your reservoir of truly amazing and tragic campaign stories (remember Michael Huffington?).

America does not hold a grudge against rich people, just candidates or mega-donors who come across as using their money arrogantly to achieve political glory. And so we turn back to the unfolding Steyer tale. As he entered the national stage, he seemed to understand the tone needed to generate optimum media acclaim. He was willing to turn his back on future profits and commit himself to making the country better. He was willing to attack either party to push candidates who would be aligned in fighting “climate change.” He was willing to take on the growing number of conservative and libertarian billionaires with equally aggressive political campaigns aimed at electing candidates who would be reliable environmental extremists. Steyer’s passion to save the earth was his only goal, and he would spend what it took to achieve it. With this myth established, the acclaim from the New York Times crowd was in the bag.

But as reality has set in, we already see a new Tom Steyer: now more go along to get along. No longer is he willing to attack candidates of either party who are not environmentally aligned, because if he attacks Democrats who support the Keystone pipeline extension, he will be greatly increasing the chance that Republicans will win a majority in the Senate. And it seems in most states across the land, energy production and infrastructure are, in fact, politically popular. So now Steyer is slightly less concerned about the state of the earth and a little more concerned about the state of Harry Reid’s gavel. And another fact is slowly settling in with Team Steyer: That the majority leader’s gavel just may not be able to be bought, even with all the gold he earned from all those coal mines. Yet another example that America is still a great place indeed.

Matt Schlapp is chairman of The American Conservative Union, co-founder of Cove Strategies, and former White House Political Director to President George W. Bush.