Tom Steyer was one of the biggest political spenders in 2016, dropping $90 million to Democratic causes in that election cycle. Since then, the San Francisco resident has devoted much of his political efforts to gathering support for a campaign to impeach President Trump.
The Globe interviewed Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, on Tuesday morning ahead of his “Need to Impeach” town hall in Boston. Questions and answers have been edited for length.
Q. You started this impeachment movement early in the Trump presidency. When did you decide this needed to happen?
A. I think the James Comey thing made it clear that Trump was going to obstruct justice. I think I always felt that this was a guy who was using the presidency to enrich himself. Both are completely illegal.
Q. Some on the left say that by impeaching Trump, you are letting voters off the hook — that what really needs to happen is for voters to reject him so he isn’t a martyr. What is wrong with that?
A. I think that argument misunderstands the argument for impeachment. The only way this president is going to be impeached is if the American people insist on it.
Q. A strong majority of the US didn’t want then-president Bill Clinton impeached — but he was because the US House voted to impeach him.
A. Yes, that was a Republican impeachment. But [Clinton] was never in danger [of being removed from office] because the American people didn’t want him out. Nixon was removed from office in effect because Republican senators told him [that he didn’t have enough support in the Senate]. That wasn’t because the senators changed their minds: It was because the American people changed their mind and they couldn’t get reelected [without backing Nixon’s impeachment].
Q. Speaking of changing people’s minds: When you do these town halls, aren’t you just preaching to the choir? Have you changed a single person’s mind?
A. In American politics today, isn’t everybody preaching to the choir? We make those town halls available to everybody. We specifically go to red states like South Carolina and Utah. Do I think I have changed any minds? Yes, but far fewer than you’d think because of the nature of the people who come. But we try really hard in our [television] ads to put them on Fox News because we want you to hear this, because we know you aren’t hearing this from Sean Hannity. We want to make this message available to everybody.
Q. Let’s talk about one of your first forays into politics. In a 2013 special election in Massachusetts, you spent millions supporting Ed Markey, including on a plane flying a banner over Fenway Park reading “Steve Lynch for Oil Evil Empire.” Advisers said this contest, which Markey won, was a test case for your $74 million effort in the 2014 election cycle. What did you learn here?
A. What I learned from then, and I am not sure I fully appreciated it at the time, is that the only thing that is worth doing politically is standing up for what’s right. There was a real choice in that primary. Senator Markey was very clearly [the] better candidate. It was not uncontroversial to do what we did, but we were doing something that we truly believed was right, and in retrospect it was. And so the measure I took from it was not about political tactics or should we fly a banner over Fenway — that was hoopla — but standing up for what you think is right.
Q. You have worked with Michael Bloomberg in the past, particularly on climate change. Who is more likely to run for president in 2020, you or him?
A. [Laughs.] I don’t know. I thought Mike should have run. I have a lot of respect for him. I think that at some point Mike, who is indefatigable, is going to look at the calendar, and think, “wow, I’d be elderly to do this.”
Q. And what about you?
A. What I have said, which is true, is that we are totally focused on Nov. 6, 2018, which is Election Day. We don’t know what will happen, and I don’t know the right thing to do on No. 7. This election could be a reaffirmation of this president. This could be a complete rejection of this president.James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp