Tom Steyer filled a non-existent void

Until Tom Steyer came along, I believe John Connally held the record for least bang for the buck among aspirants for the presidency. Connally spent around $11 million in his 1980 campaign and secured the support of only one delegate, Ada Mills of Clarksville, Arkansas. She became known as the “$11 million delegate”.

Steyer smashed Connally’s record. Reportedly, he spent $158 million on TV and radio adds. Yet, I believe he failed to gain a single delegate.

Nonetheless, Steyer declared that he accomplished his purpose in entering the race, which was to make sure that his biggest concerns — climate change and race — did not get short shrift in debates and on the campaign trail.

To me, that’s like starting a sports radio talk show to make sure the Houston Astros cheating scandal and Tom Brady’s free agency get discussed. Or setting up a porn video production company to guard against a shortage of smut on the internet.

Race is a hardy perennial in Democratic presidential campaigns, and never more so than in this cycle. Kamala Harris was so eager to talk about race that she tried to restore the debate over school busing by discussing her experiences as a first grader 50 years ago. I call that pandering by recovered memory.

Pete Buttigieg put forth his “Douglas Plan” for a “comprehensive and intentional dismantling of racist structures and systems combined with an equally intentional and affirmative investment of unprecedented scale in the freedom and self-determination of black Americans.” That’s pandering by adjective.

Joe Biden went so far as to invent a story about being arrested in South Africa when he tried to see Nelson Mandela. That’s pandering by fantasy.

I wonder whether African-Americans want to be pandered to in this fashion. As a group, they seem to settle on a favored candidate pretty quickly — based on factors other than rhetoric, promises, and fables — and then stick to their preference. This is not a “flavor du jour” constituency.

The campaign didn’t need Steyer to bring climate to the fore, either. The major candidates all agreed that climate change poses “an existential threat” to mankind. The topic has been raised in every debate I’ve witnessed, including the ones that predate Steyer’s appearances.

There was even a candidate who made climate change his single focus. That was Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington state.

It’s true that Inslee was a no-hoper from the beginning and dropped out of the race in August. But $158 million is a very steep price to pay for the honor of filling the void left by Jay Inslee.

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