As seen on TV: Nevada’s newest billionaire sweetheart

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Tom Steyer has reportedly spent $116 million on ads nationally and accounted for by far the most presidential campaign ad spending in Nevada.

It slices. It dices. 

It can even julienne whatever pride remains of being an early state in the presidential primaries.

Billionaire presidential candidate Tom Steyer’s tie for third place in a poll of Nevada Democrats, coupled with a second place showing in a poll of South Carolinians, doesn’t mean he’s on a path to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. 

But it should win him a spot in the annals of U.S. advertising curiosities.

Steyer’s lavish spending on ads hasn’t earned him the level of brand recognition attained by other commercial TV creations, such as the iconic slicing dicing Veg-O-Matic. His campaign ads will never penetrate a nation’s psyche with the same force, as, say, The Clapper, which remains quaintly charming. Steyer’s ad-fueled landing in our pop culture is, by contrast, embarrassing and disturbing. If anything, he’s the 2020 Democratic presidential field’s answer to the Shake Weight.

Still, that’s no small achievement.

You’ve seen and heard Steyer’s ads even if you are one of those fancy people who doesn’t watch actual TV channels anymore. Pandora, YouTube, Hulu, every website that takes ads (the one you’re reading now does not; you’re welcome) — Steyer’s advertising has been nearly impossible to avoid.

Steyer has reportedly spent more than $116 million on advertising, most of it in Nevada and South Carolina. And his rise in polls in those states qualified him for Tuesday’s Iowa debate.

On CNN over the weekend, Steyer contended that “the thing that has put me on this stage — and it is the same for every single person who’s running for president — is message.”

That prompted CNN”s Jake Tapper to note that “91 percent of television ad spending in South Carolina is from you, and 97 percent of ad spending in Nevada is from you.”

People are mocking Steyer for saying it’s the power of his message and not the effectiveness of obscene spending that is responsible for his poll numbers.

But seriously, given the countless problems and issues facing the nation, many if not most of them made worse, or just made, by Trump, why wouldn’t Democratic voters determine that what America needs more than anything right now is that remedy so beloved by Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party, and that one guy at the end of the bar: term limits!

Term limits aren’t the only part of the message Steyer is pushing in the nine-figure orgy of excess that is his presidential campaign.

“Unlike other candidates,” Steyer says in one of his ads, “I can go head-to-head with Donald Trump on the economy, and expose him for what he is: A fraud, and a failure.”

That ad is adorable, because it innocently assumes American voters, including Trump supporters, don’t already know Trump is a lying cheating con man, but they would suddenly see the light and be outraged if only the real truth about Trump was exposed by Tom Steyer.

This is the same ad by the way wherein Steyer brags about all the money he made. It’s a classic American up-by-one’s-bootstraps tale. Dissatisfied with the daily grind of just another extremely well-paying job in arbitrage and mergers and acquisitions at Goldman Sachs, Steyer struck out on his own, and struck it rich, in that hallmark of a severely over-financialized system that rewards wealth instead of work: That’s right, Steyer made his money running a hedge fund.

It certainly is reassuring to know that if Steyer were in fact the Democratic nominee, there’s no way Trump would bring that up.

But wait, there’s more!

Term limits and being richer than Trump aren’t the only things we know about Nevada’s new sweetheart. When the City of Las Vegas was about to pass one of its dumb but mean and punitive ordinances to criminalize poverty, Steyer jumped on the bandwagon of presidential candidates opposing the ordinance.

One wonders how much housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness could be financed by $116 million. Oh well.

Steyer seems sincere. He also seems to suffer from Rich Man’s Syndrome. Brought on by intense contact with people constantly telling them how great they are, the victim begins to believe it.

Steyer’s case is made all the more acute due to his relatively recent conversion from financial shenans rent-taker to progressive crusader. As is often the case with the newly zealous, Steyer seems to believe he is the only person who grasps the threat posed by corporate corruption and the climate crisis. And now that he’s discovered them, he believes only he can fix them. Because he’s Tom Steyer.

Steyer qualified for other debates before the one in Iowa Tuesday, and his performances suggest his supporters have not watched a single solitary second of Steyer fumbling and bumbling through answers on a debate stage. Although to be fair, after the November debate a focus group did think Steyer performed better than Tulsi Gabbard.

There is a school of thought that says Democrats and most independents are ready to vote for anyone or anything, be it animal, vegetable or mineral, before they will vote for Trump. A competing sentiment says Democrats must nominate someone who is “safe,” because the stakes are so high.

Arguably no one is a more unsafe nominee than Steyer. He’s not even the strongest billionaire in the field.

Steyer is a dilettante who knows little to nothing about policy and even less about governing. In other words, he’s at least as qualified to be president as Trump.

But if, in violation of all that is decent and fair and good and sensible and just, Steyer actually manages to buy the Democratic nomination, Americans seeking an end to our long national nightmare of Trump’s presidency will be crying “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.