Democrats' Donald Trump: Meet the millionaires who want to make a difference

With an eye toward 2018 and 2020, Democrats are looking to billionaire and millionaire candidates for salvation.

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 8, 2016 5:51PM (EST)

Tom Steyer          (Reuters/Gary Cameron)
Tom Steyer (Reuters/Gary Cameron)

In the wake of Trump's upset election victory, it seems that the Democratic Party is considering running its own billionaire and multimillionaire candidates — minus the racism and sexism, of course.

In 2018, Democrats are eyeing attorney John Morgan in Florida, hotel heir J. B. Pritzker in Illinois, and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer in California, according to a report from Politico on Thursday. Because Democrats only hold 18 governorships — compared to 29 in 2008 — there is a strong appeal for candidates who like Trump can self-finance their own campaigns.

“There seems to be a feeling that we need to look beyond the normal folks we always look to, the normal types,” said Elisabeth Pearson, the Democratic Governors Association’s executive director, in an interview with Politico. She also explained that the party is realizing that it has a "need to look beyond the type of people who have been elected before, and look at who else might be out there."

In the case of Morgan and Steyer, the similarities with Trump don't end at their wealth. While Trump glommed on to immigration and trade deals as his defining causes, Morgan and Steyer have lightning rod issues of their own.

Morgan is an outspoken advocate of medical marijuana legalization, bankrolling the 2016 initiative in Florida to legalize that use of the drug in his state. He even went to war with Debbie Wasserman Schultz — back when she was still chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee — for her timidity in supporting the issue.

“I just don’t understand,” Morgan told Politico in June. “She’s the Democratic National Committee chair and she’s the last Democrat to get on board with this? Even Donald Trump supports medical marijuana.”

While Steyer hasn't had to take on his own party in the same way as Trump or Morgan, he has become well-known for his efforts to raise awareness about man-made climate change. At an estimated worth of over $1.5 billion, Steyer had little difficulty creating a Super PAC called NextGen Climate, which poured millions into anti-Trump ads — both pertaining to climate change and attacking him on unrelated issues, such as his racism — in order to help Hillary Clinton defeat the global warming denialist Trump.

"Preventing climate disaster is really a health and economic issue, so really we feel that this is the opportunity to engage the country," Steyer told Fortune Magazine in June. "We’ll see on Nov. 8 if the majority of Americans agree with us and where they do. I’m super optimistic about that. We’re standing up for the absolute bedrock of American values."

Finally there is Pritzker, the heir to the Hyatt Hotels chain, who is well known throughout Chicago as one of the biggest boosters for Hillary Clinton's political ambitions.

“This isn’t about lifestyles of the rich and famous. There’s nothing fancy about it. People just want to mingle with the candidate,” Pritzker told the Chicago Sun-Times in June during a campaign event in which he invited donors to meet Clinton in person. “People were excited. A lot of them had never met her.”

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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California Donald Trump Florida Illinois J. B. Pritzker John Morgan Tom Steyer