If you watch too much cable news, you might think “Centrist Independent” Howard Schultz is likely to be our next President. He’s been on every channel, he has top tier surrogates like Steve Schmidt talking for him, Donald Trump is attacking him on Twitter, and Democratic talking heads are angry that someone would dare run as an independent and call them too liberal. It’s all more than a bit dishonest. Howard Schultz, despite all of his money, is not likely to do much better than Teddy Roosevelt (1912), Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace (1948), George Wallace (1968), John Anderson (1980), Ross Perot (1992&1996), Ralph Nader (2000), or Gary Johnson and Jill Stein (2016) did in their losing third party candidacies. Roosevelt and Perot were plenty rich, but couldn’t buy votes. The one thing both of them can share with Nader and Stein though is that many people blame them for the outcome.
I’ve said I don’t think Schultz should do this, despite agreeing with some of the points he’s making. Donald Trump tweeting attacks at him was incredibly validating. It’s not that I’m sure Schultz would hurt one party more than the other, it’s the mere possibility that he could possibly help Trump. Donald Trump is attacking Schultz because a third party candidate could lower the threshold he needs to reach to win in the key states, and Trump needs that with his low poll numbers. Donald Trump’s 46% in 2016 was very low for a Presidential candidate, and his approval has never been that high again. Trump may need to be able to win with 42% or lower in 2020. He’s tweeting that he hates Schultz, but privately he loves him.
The Democrats don’t deserve a badge of honor here either. Hillary Clinton got 48% in 2016, Barack Obama got 51% and 53% in his two victories. If you genuinely believe that Howard Schultz is likely to play spoiler, you probably believe Schultz is going to knock the Democrats below Hillary’s number. That means you think the 2020 nominee will be less capable than Clinton, run a worse campaign than Clinton, AND that their message will resonate with less voters than Hillary’s did, let alone President Obama’s. If you believe Howard Schultz is going to pick off moderate Democrats, you’re basically proving Schultz’s point that the Democratic Party is too liberal. Given how important this election is, if you realize this now, wouldn’t it be more productive to do something about it than go on TV and complain about this guy? Perhaps there is more doubt in the DC crowd than they let on.
Then there’s Schultz, Steve Schmidt, Bill Burton, and everyone else associated with this campaign- they’re all too smart to believe what they’re saying. They know that the 40% of the public that call themselves independent aren’t all centrists. I actually don’t believe these guys are trying to play spoiler, I think they all genuinely dislike Trump. I think they made a self-interest decision that could endanger the election. They decided that a rich, white, moderate businessman that thinks AOC is a bit nutty isn’t going to win the Democratic primary voters over, because they’re simply more liberal. So they’re going to skip the primary and just run in the general election. They see votes to grab from all sides. There are some centrist independents. There are “Never Trumpers” in the GOP. There’s even the chunk of Trump voters that fall between his hardcore base of 33% and his 46% 2016 performance. They also see a moderate wing of Democrats who are increasingly isolated in their own party, people who are terrified of Trump, but find the party’s left to be ridiculous. How many of the low-affinity partisans can they grab from both sides? They’ve probably determined enough to compete. If it’s not enough to win though, there’s a better than decent shot they would spoil it for one side or the other. They either are in denial of that, or more likely know that saying so would hurt their case.
I find some of what Schultz is saying to be refreshing, but I find almost all of what everyone is saying on his candidacy to be dishonest, including himself. In normal times, I’d be very willing to debate if the Democratic Party is a responsible political party, but when Donald Trump is siding with Neo-Nazis and the Kremlin I think we have to focus on the real problem at hand. The coverage he’s getting needs to focus on the low likelihood that he can win, what his real pathway is, and the very real possibility that he ends up throwing the election one way or the other.