‘He 100 percent will only run if he sees a viable path. There’s no chance he gets in this race if there isn’t a path…’
(Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News) Former Starbucks Corp. Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz’s flirtation with an independent presidential bid already has many of the Left circling the wagons.
The 65-year-old Seattle billionaire, considered by many to be an extreme progressive, is staking his claim in the ideological center at a time of increasing political polarization.
According to left-wingers, who have ferociously attacked him as an election spoiler ever since he announced his intentions Sunday night, Schultz’s rejection of liberal economics and cultural conservatism leaves him without a clear national constituency or a readily plausible route to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House.
Right now his candidacy is only prospective. After being harangued on Twitter and heckled at a book event, Schultz and his political advisers sought to ramp up support. But their wavering and conditional statements are likely only to intensify the fierceness of the Left’s opposition.
“He 100 percent will only run if he sees a viable path. There’s no chance he gets in this race if there isn’t a path,” Bill Burton, a former aide to President Barack Obama who recently joined Schultz’s political team, said in an interview Tuesday. A decision on running may not be made until “summer or fall,” he said.
In the meantime, Schultz is planning to travel the country looking to find a critical mass of support for a candidacy by pitching himself as an alternative to the ideological extremes he views as ascendant in both Republican and Democratic parties.
A person close to Schultz who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly said the retired executive views the virulent reaction to his potential candidacy as validation of his position that the two-party system is broken and toxic. He wants to attract Democrats disaffected by their party’s leftward drift and Republicans disillusioned by President Donald Trump, the person said.
But the portion of self-identified “moderates” has fallen in the electorate, according to surveys by Gallup that have tracked ideological affiliation for generations. Political independents are on the rise, but that doesn’t mean they’re centrists—independent voters increasingly lean toward one of the two major parties, often driven by a desire to keep the opposition out of power, according to the Pew Research Center.
And “floating voters”—who support different parties in back-to-back elections—have fallen as a share of the national electorate in recent decades, according to a 2017 research paper in the American Journal of Political Science by Corwin D. Smidt of Michigan State University.
Many third-party or independent candidates have sought the presidency, but none has ever won since the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln established the modern two-party system. The most successful independent bid in the last half-century was Ross Perot’s in 1992. He won nearly 19 percent of the popular vote but failed to win a single electoral vote. The last time a non major-party candidate won any electoral votes was George Wallace in 1968. He got 46 of them in the Deep South while running on a platform of racial segregation.
Since announcing Sunday that he’s considering an independent bid, Schultz, now the chairman emeritus of Starbucks, has taken aim at progressive Democrats like Sen. Kamala Harris of California for backing single-payer health insurance, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York for proposing sharp tax hikes on billionaires like him—he called both proposals un-American.
But surveys show that taxing the wealthy and “Medicare for all” are generally popular ideas among the Democratic voters he hopes to court, while Schultz’s central economic proposition—lowering the “immoral” national debt by cutting programs like Social Security and Medicare, which taxpayers have already paid into on the promise of later returns—is unpopular across the spectrum of Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Although many on the Right may see the Seattle-based Starbucks as ground zero in the corporate culture war to push a progressive agenda, Schultz said he hoped also to win over Republicans seeking an alternative to Trump.
“Republicans are looking for a home. And if Republicans have a choice between a far left, liberal, progressive candidate on the Democratic side, or President Trump, President Trump is gonna get re-elected,” he said Tuesday on CBS’ “This Morning” program. “I will provide the Republicans with a choice that they do not have.”
Republican voters remain strongly supportive of Trump, though, giving him a job approval rating of 84 percent in a Monmouth University poll released Monday, more than double his approval rating of 41 percent with voters nationwide. A Washington Post/ABC News poll out Tuesday found that Republicans say 2-to-1 that Trump should be renominated.
Democrats argue that Schultz, like Perot, could draw off just enough votes from the party’s nominee to lower Trump’s threshold for victory without having any real hope of winning the presidency.
“The whole thing belies reality. There is no path to election for a third party candidate under our current system and the math of this is very clear,” Dan Pfeiffer, Burton’s former Obama administration colleague, said in an email. “There is majority of Americans that oppose Trump and splitting that coalition for a vanity project will be the greatest in-kind contribution in the history of politics.”
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who considered an independent presidential campaign in 2016 but ultimately endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton, echoed that analysis. He said in a statement Monday that the data show “there is no way an independent can win.”
Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, which originally published this article. He has said he’s considering seeking the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Asked to respond to critics who say Schultz would help Trump, Burton said: “Show me the data. We can’t answer this question yet. The American people haven’t been introduced to Howard Schultz just yet, and no one’s taken a look at how the country is responding.”
Trump delivered what was essentially a dare for Schultz to jump in the race.
“Howard Schultz doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to run for President!” he wrote on Twitter, adding at the end, “I only hope that Starbucks is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower!”
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.
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