Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer, the billionaire liberal activist who has been leading a multimillion-dollar effort to impeach President Donald Trump, listens during an interview in Charleston on Tuesday. He said he plans to decide in the next few months about whether he will run for president in 2020. Caitlin Byrd/Staff

Billionaire liberal activist Tom Steyer said he will make a decision about a future 2020 presidential bid in the next few months but he already seems more than comfortable with the idea.

"I am willing to do anything," Steyer said Tuesday at the Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel in Charleston. "This is not about me. This is not about my personal ambition. I am extremely ambitious to be part of the group of people to get this country back on a decent path: prosperous, equitable and safe."

Steyer leaned forward in his seat and repeated, "Extremely ambitious to be part of this group of people, and I will do anything to do that."

Even run for president?

"Yes," Steyer said in a one-on-one interview with The Post and Courier. "But it's not about me."

The 61-year-old former hedge fund manager understood the political optics surrounding his trip Tuesday to South Carolina, an early presidential primary state that has attracted visits from more than 20 potential Democratic hopefuls in recent months. Steyer is best-known for his multimillion-dollar effort to impeach President Donald Trump.

"That's where the ideas really are fleshed out," he said of the upcoming presidential race. "For better or worse, the conversation is going to take place disproportionately in South Carolina."

Steyer planned to kick off those conversations in Charleston during the first of five events he will hold across the country to promote his "5 Rights" platform.

It includes: the right to an equal vote, the right to clean air and water, the right to learn, the right to a living wage, and the right to health.

Steyer said he prefers to think of it as a "21st Century Bill of Rights" and not a political platform, even though he paid to have it printed as a full-page ad in USA Today and Gannett newspapers nationwide last month.

"First of all, I haven't said I'm running for president," Steyer said, insisting he put the ideas out there to see how people respond.

Steyer is the founder of NextGen America, a liberal advocacy group that he said launched "the largest youth voter program in American history" by getting more than 257,000 young voters registered to vote on hundreds of college campuses.

He also invested $120 million to help Democrats get elected in 2018.

However, Steyer is probably best known for his Need to Impeach campaign and, more specifically, for the series of TV ads he has run in which he calls for Trump's removal from office.

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It's a charge Steyer said he won't give up.

"Look, I don't think Mr. Trump is stupid about everything," Steyer said. "I do think he's quite smart about politics, and I think he's quite smart about people — very smart. But in terms of policy, I consider him to be shockingly stupid, and I also consider him to be extremely corrupt."

Steyer picked up his cellphone from the table and checked the number of people who have signed his petition, reading it aloud: 6,431,138. 

Steyer said he also considers the Trump presidency as part of a larger national crisis he sees unfolding, and called him "a deep threat to the United States."

As talk turned back to 2020, Steyer reiterated his deeply held belief that change is needed.

"I am serious. Something has to happen here," he said.

While in Charleston, Steyer said he plans to visit with stakeholders associated with the International African American Museum and other groups. When asked to share who he planned to hold meetings with throughout the day, Steyer responded with a laugh before saying, "Democrats."

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.