Billionaire Tom Steyer Is Ready for a "Crazy" 12-Person Democratic Debate

Getty
Tom Steyer

The businessman-turned-impeachment activist gets his first shot on the national stage Tuesday night.

On Tuesday night, some three months after entering the race to defeat Donald Trump, Tom Steyer will finally get his first chance to introduce himself to a national audience as one of the leading candidates for president.

He'll be doing so on a historically crowded stage, one of 12 candidates who will be tested by CNN's Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett and New York Times editor Marc Lacey.

"This debate is an opportunity for us and CNN to engage with the candidates in a live format and dig into the issues and concerns facing voters during the presidential campaign," the Times said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

The stakes are undoubtedly high for Steyer, but it won't be his only chance to shine. After failing to qualify for the July and September primary debates, Steyer has already qualified for the Nov. 20 debate hosted by MSNBC.

Ahead of showtime, Steyer chatted with THR about how he's getting ready and how he plans to make his mark.

How are you feeling about the debate?

I'm excited. I think most people in America don't know who I am and this is a chance for me to introduce myself and to talk about what I care about and why I am running for president. The whole point of this campaign is to explain who I am and why I'm running, and if I get a chance to talk to 15 to 30 million Americans, I'm excited about it. I think it's a great chance.... We'll see how it works.

Did you watch the previous debates? What did you learn from them? 

I watched highlights. I didn't watch them all the way through. The reason I'm running is that I watched enough of the debates that it seemed to be focused on policies and important policies, but policies that didn't address what I think is the fundamental point about American politics today: this corporate stranglehold on our democracy and government.

Are you worried about the size of the debate field?

Oh my god, crazy...12 people. It just seems — I'm not sure why the DNC didn't split it into two, which was their original thought about it. I don't make the decisions, so it is what it is, but it does seem like a lot of people on one stage at one time.

Are you concerned that you won't get enough questions and enough time?

I'm honestly viewing this as away to introduce myself to the American people, so every question is a chance to explain to the American people who I am and why I'm running. I want to answer the questions, but I want to explain those two things.

How will your debate strategy tonight differ from your debate strategy in November, when the public knows you better?

There will be a lot of water that has gone under the bridge by then. This race is totally in flux. What is going to be going on on the third Wednesday in November? I have no clue.

As a longtime activist for impeaching the president, are you surprised that impeachment has become almost an inevitability in the House of Representatives?

When I started Need to Impeach two years ago, I said, "I know we're right, but if you don't believe it, just wait." And that's exactly what happened. I think people felt somehow that he would bounce back to normal. Normal is not in his repertory. No, I'm not surprised. This was in my mind inevitable.

This isn't news that he's a crook. It isn't news that he's covered up his crimes. This is stuff that's been in the public domain. This guy has been breaking the law since the first days he's gotten into office and he's been covering it up. I think this was about the American people pushing their elected officials to do the right thing. A broken government and a government that is bought by corporations. The answer is democracy. The answer is to take back the government from the corporations that currently control them.

Do you think that corporate control of the media dictates the way that policy is framed and the way, for example, that questions are asked at the primary debates? Bernie Sanders made this critique in the July debate when asked about health-care solutions.

I have not entertained that theory before. My experience of reporters is that they basically get into this — my mom was a reporter. She viewed it as sort of like being a priest. You weren't doing it for the money. You were doing it for a higher calling. It was about truth and it was about the fourth estate and I've always felt that way about reporters.

Sometimes I've felt like there are specific channels that are taking a corporate line and denying truth. I look at the right-wing media as an attempt to deny truth in general, but I view that as a very specific thing that's going on right now.

Do you think the major media networks have taken your candidacy seriously?

To be fair, Jeremy, I think the TV networks should do 100 percent of their time on me; 100 would be good, more than 100 would be better. No one ever thinks they ever get enough attention. I'm not going to whine about it. That doesn't seem like it's productive.

Well, when you've been interviewed on the cable news networks, do you think you've been asked fair questions?

There's no unfair questions. Hard questions give me a chance to answer. There are no unfair questions, there are only unprepared answers.

My job is to figure out what the truth is and express it as often as I can to the American people. To try and figure out the truth and convey it and if I'm good at that, people say it's really exciting, and if I'm bad at it, people say, "Honey, flip the channel, that guy is a dullard."

What's the best part of running for president? The worst part?

Talking to people. For seven years I really crossed this country as a grassroots activist. Getting out and meeting the American people is by far the most important and fun thing you do.

I like the whole thing. No complaints.