All the Things No One Will Say on Howard Schultz

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.


On Howard Schultz

I’m a Howard Schultz fan, I think what he did with Starbucks was amazing. I think he’s absolutely qualified, as much as anyone really is, to be President. I agreed with parts of what he had to say on 60 Minutes last night. If he runs for President as an independent though, I don’t believe he can win, and I’d be voting for the Democratic nominee.

Howard Schultz target audience is me- people who don’t like AOC, Bernie Sanders, and other leftists popping up in the party right now. I agree with him that they haven’t thought through how to finance Medicare for All, debt free college, and other “big” ideas they have. I might disagree with him on whether or not we should still do a major health care plan (the national debt doesn’t negate the need), and I think Schultz is too cozy to policies that favor the wealthy on a number of issues, but he’s basically not a far cry off from the positions of many more moderate Democrats, or even for that matter liberals in the mold of Hillary Clinton. He’d be 10,000% better than Donald Trump.

There are ethical and tactical problems with what Schultz is proposing though. Let’s start with the obvious tactical one though- independent candidates and third party candidates can’t win. The best performance in modern memory was Ross Perot’s 19% in 1992, which netted him exactly zero electoral votes. He was the last independent or third party candidate to get into a debate with the two major nominees. What is more likely to happen is a repeat of 2000 and 2016- where the third party candidates get more votes in the decisive states than the popular vote winner loses those states by, and essentially contributes to electing a President who got less votes. This seems even more likely in 2020, where the Democrats could be nominating someone more progressive, another woman, possibly an LGBT person, a Latino, or an African-American. People who would otherwise vote against Donald Trump would see Schultz as a viable alternative to whatever makes them uncomfortable about the Democratic nominee. This is particularly true when he’s telling them he’ll be a uniter from the middle, which makes the 10% of the country that are actually swing-voters feel good about themselves.

From a tactical standpoint, running third party is a dead end path. Who makes election laws? Usually partisan appointees or partisan legislators. Ballot access can be incredibly hard for independent candidates, even harder than for third party candidates, throwing into doubt his ability to even make the ballot. Once on the ballot he would face structural disadvantages. Voters are creatures of habit, and in some states, their habit is voting straight ticket- in Pennsylvania, for instance, Schultz would start tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of votes behind both party nominees simply because it’s a habit for older voters. Then there’s exposure issues. Schultz would be running without the network of donors and staffers that major party nominees just have, making it that much harder, and personally expensive, to get out his message. He’d have a problem getting on the debate stage even, as a more partisan than not commission on Presidential debates would decide what threshold he would have to reach to get into each debate.

All of that is the tactical- what about the moral issues that strike against Schultz? Michael Bloomberg has reportedly decided to run as a Democrat in 2020, despite the fact he’s not a perfect ideological fit there. I hate to even cite him, but Donald Trump’s decision to run as a Republican in 2016 put him up against the ideological tilt of that party on a number of issues. Why is Howard Schultz under the impression that he should jump the line? Why does he think he should skip the primary? Why does he believe he should get on that debate stage without taking on the process in either party. He’s wealthy enough to easily finance a primary in either party- and there are people who would vote for him. There are the Steve Schmidt breed of #NeverTrump’ers in the GOP, which wouldn’t be enough to win, but could make a point. On the Democratic side, a well-funded moderate may just beat the excessive field of progressive candidates splitting up that vote. While everyone seems to think the left is resurgent in the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton by over 15%, even with all the misogyny and other issues she faced. Why does Howard think he should get a free pass to the general election, when no one else does?

Let’s also be realistic for a moment, the rosey picture Howard Schultz is painting of his America will not happen. Who will be his Congressional allies he works with to pass his agenda? The House Democratic leadership, under Speaker Pelosi? The Senate Republican leadership, under Leader McConnell? The Senate Dem Leader, Chuck Schumer? I mean really, who’s going to carry his legislative water in a two-party Congress? Who would politically benefit? What’s more likely is legislative chaos, where the divided Congress passes legislation in their house that they like, and dares him to take a position one way or the other. Rather than dead-middle ground pragmatism ruling Washington, a Schultz Presidency would probably induce incoherent policy that counteracts itself.

I say all of this as someone who actually likes Schultz politics more than I don’t. I think he’s smart, practical, and a big improvement on this President. There are voters like me in Iowa and New Hampshire. If Howard Schultz wants to run for President against Donald Trump, he should go meet them and run for the Democratic nomination. The folly in believing there are actually 40% of Americans who will end up voting for a third, dead in the middle option could have disastrous effects. It would most likely re-elect Trump. Schultz should run as a Democrat and convince us that he’s the best option to defeat Donald Trump. That is really what will matter.