Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, announced on Sunday during a broadcast of ’60 Minutes’ that he was actively exploring an independent run for the presidency in 2020. Schultz leans to the left on many issues but would be launching a campaign outside the two-party system since he feels that both sides have let the country down in terms of leadership on the key issues of our time. For example, Schultz warns over the rising national debt, an issue usually reserved for conservative budget hawks, but also worked during his time running Starbucks to advance the cause on social issues.
As a result, most analysts believe that Schultz, if he decided to run as an independent, would do far more damage to the Democratic nominee than he would to Donald Trump. The fear is that Schultz would peel away just enough of the vote to give Trump a second term with a lower vote percentage than he had in 2016.
Schultz is very serious about running, having already assembled a team of campaign professionals to map out a course toward victory in 2020. Democrats and opinion journalists, meanwhile, have taken to their various mediums to discourage Schultz from running at all. Writing in the New York Times, opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg strongly urges Schultz to sit this one out and support the Democratic nominee:
Absent such changes, his candidacy would threaten to siphon away enough votes to give Trump a second term. In 2015 and 2016, Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman whose politics are much like Schultz’s, considered mounting an independent campaign for president. His team looked closely at poll data and focus groups, and found he’d be potentially competitive only in blue states. “All of the results were very consistent,” Howard Wolfson, Bloomberg’s political adviser, told me. “An independent with Mike’s profile would have merely resulted in Trump’s election.”
Obviously, Trump won anyway, but Bloomberg’s research underscores the folly of Schultz’s trial balloon. On Monday, Bloomberg, who is contemplating a 2020 run as a Democrat, put out a statement that seemed aimed at Schultz, though it didn’t mention him by name. “In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up re-electing the president,” wrote Bloomberg. “That’s a risk I refused to run in 2016 and we can’t afford to run it now.”
Business Insider is also reporting that Democratic activists around the country are attempting to float a #BoycottStarbucks campaign threatening to stop buying whip-topping-covered coffee beverages if Schultz decides to run in 2020:
The potential punishment goes beyond Schultz. Some on the left are threatening to boycott Starbucks if the former CEO runs for president.
“Vanity projects that help destroy democracy are disgusting,” Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, tweeted.
“If he enters the race, I will start a Starbucks boycott because I’m not giving a penny that will end up in the election coffers of a guy who will help Trump win,” Tanden added.
Who are they kidding? Starbucks is as much a way of life for people like breathing air. Besides, Schultz no longer runs the company, he wouldn’t be the one feeling any pain from such a misguided move.
Why wouldn’t Schultz, who once considered himself a life-long Democrat, simply take a cue from Donald Trump and try to work within the two-party system? Investor’s Business Daily explains why Schultz, who is more in line with being a Rockefeller-Republican than he is with being a modern day progressive liberal, simply doesn’t fit in either party today:
As soon as Schultz stepped down from his perch at Starbucks last June, speculation arose about his running as a Democrat in 2020. But then, during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” around that time, Schultz had this to say:
“It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, ‘How are we going to pay for these things,’ in terms of things like single payer (and) people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job.”
Schultz went on to say that the greatest threat domestically to the country is “this $21 trillion debt hanging over the cloud of America and future generations. The only way we’re going to get out of that is we’ve got to grow the economy, in my view, 4% or greater. And then we have to go after entitlements.”
To today’s Democrats, Schultz must sound like an alien invader.
Asking how the country would pay for expanded social programs is antithetical to the mainstream of the Democratic Party today when new personalities like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is constantly pushing programs like universal college education and “Medicare for all,” to great applause within the party. Sen. Kamala Harris, of California, just launched her campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination this month and her platform includes many of the government programs that Schultz says are irresponsible, or simply wouldn’t be sustainable economically.
There is one person, however, who would love to see Howard Schultz siphon votes from Democrats:
Howard Schultz doesn’t have the “guts” to run for President! Watched him on @60Minutes last night and I agree with him that he is not the “smartest person.” Besides, America already has that! I only hope that Starbucks is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2019
From the calculation of the Trump campaign, having an independent in the mix would help the president cruise to a second term. Even if Schultz only took a few percentage points from the Democratic nominee, that’s all Bill Clinton needed in 1992 to win the presidency with 43% of the vote. Running as an independent, Ross Perot took 18% of the vote, presumably away from George H. W. Bush, who ended up with 37%.
At an event for his new book, Schultz took an onslaught from attendees urging him to not help re-elect Donald Trump:
Billionaire businessman Howard Schultz, who said he is “seriously” considering an independent 2020 presidential bid, was shouted down by a protester at the kickoff event for his nationwide book tour on Monday night in New York City.
“Don’t help elect Trump you egotistical billionaire a—–e,” the protester shouted at the former Starbucks CEO, who is worth more than $3 billion according to Forbes.
“Go back to getting ratioed on Twitter,” the protester added, pointing to Schultz’s tweets that were garnering substantially more comments than retweets or likes, a sign of disagreement with his message on the platform. “Go back to Davos with the other Billionaire elite who think they know how to run the world.”‘
Schultz seems very serious, and has been putting together an elite team of strategists over the past several months, as reported by CNBC:
Howard Schultz has hired ex-Obama aide Bill Burton as a communications advisor as the former Starbucks CEO mulls running for president in 2020, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
Schultz’s team has been speaking with potential staffers as the former Starbucks chairman debates whether to run for president as an independent, the sources added.
“There’s a lot of people who have reached out who want to become involved,” a person close to the former Starbucks chairman told CNBC on the condition of anonymity.
The addition of Burton could potentially be a boost to Schultz’s elite PR team, which already includes a number of high-profile public relations executives, including Steve Schmidt, who used to be a vice chairman at Edelman and managed Republican Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008.
I’m still on the fence as to whether Schultz will ignore calls for him to step aside or whether he has decided, for himself, that the country simply needs a new alternative to the two-party system and he’s the candidate to make it happen. The only problem with that thinking, however, is that’s what every possible independent candidate thinks. The system is broken, they observe, and needs to be reset with some common sense moderation and bipartisan thinking.
But, is that what the country wants?
Schultz is already working the math on how voters feel about the possibility of his presidential run. There is a calculus, by his team, that America is sick of Donald Trump, and the Democrats are moving too far left, so there must be some middle ground for voters to latch on to.
Nate Silver, of FiveThirtyEight, thinks Schultz is probably following a fool’s errand:
For all this said, it's unbelievably arrogant for Howard Schultz to think that "Howard Schultz, as an independent, on a platform of deficit reduction, for president" is the answer to any question that anybody has ever asked about anything. https://t.co/DpqqQIUpYn
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) January 28, 2019
And before you say "But Trump!", note that Trump was literally 20 times better known than Schultz. (The graphic shows Google searches for the two of them in 2014.) And also that populism has much bigger constituency than Sunday Morning Show Simpson-Bowles centrism. pic.twitter.com/ap5ASOE59V
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) January 28, 2019
Silver may be right, but Schultz may be correct also in that America is ready for less partisanship, or at least a good chunk of America. In Schultz’s calculations, he could win the presidency with support somewhere in the thirties by actually siphoning a majority of “independent” voters away from both major parties. This strategy assumes that most independents are truly “independent” in their thinking, but that doesn’t hold true when they get pinned down on issues or decide to vote against the party with which they identify the least.
Either way with Schultz still dangling this possibility, and with the money to self-finance as much as is needed, maybe 2020 could be shaping up to be more entertaining than 2016 by tossing another wealthy businessman in the mix of Washington politics.