On Monday, former Gov. Bill Weld (R-Mass.) — who is considering a 2020 run for the Republican presidential nomination — defended Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz from Democrat attacks. Liberals have urged Schultz not to run for president as an independent because he would take votes away from the Democratic nominee. Weld insisted, however, that Schultz would take votes away from Donald Trump — just like Weld himself did when he ran with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in the 2016 election.
“I think people are giving Howard Schultz a bad rap, and they say ‘Oh, he’s going to, he’s going to hurt the Democrats because all his votes will come from the Democrats.’ I don’t think so,” Weld said.
“Howard Schultz is a business guy. I think his votes would come from Trump,” the former Massachusetts governor suggested.
“The Libertarian vote last time when I was on the ticket with former Republican Governor Gary Johnson, our votes came 3 to 1 out of Trump, not from Mrs. Clinton,” Weld insisted. “And the Democrats howled that we cost them the election. But think about it. The Libertarian vote is going to be a change vote or a protest vote. Those were not going to Mrs. Clinton last time.”
Weld has a point. The Washington Post reported that Libertarian Gary Johnson took more votes from Donald Trump than he did from Hillary Clinton. “Gary Johnson’s candidacy helped Hillary; Democrats’ efforts to delegitimize Johnson hurt Hillary; and on Election Day, if Gary Johnson hadn’t been in the race, Trump would have won by more,” Sasha Volokh reported.
According to polling from FiveThirtyEight, Johnson lost 3.7 percent to Trump in the 2016 election. According to exit polls, the Libertarian drew 2 percent of Republicans, 1 percent of Democrats, and 6 percent of independents. Independents broke 48 percent for Trump and 42 percent for Clinton.
After Trump won, Democrats blamed Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein for handing the election to the Republican. This claim is not only impossible to prove, but also rather unlikely, as Volokh explained. Various outlets like CNN and Vanity Fair allocated all of Stein’s votes to Clinton and 50 percent of Johnson’s votes to Clinton as well. Under those conditions, Clinton won. But these counterfactuals did not allocate the other 50 percent of Johnson’s vote to Trump. If they had, Clinton still would have lost.
So, would Schultz take more votes from Trump, just like Johnson did? It’s hard to say.
Howard Schultz, as CEO of Starbucks, has taken socially liberal positions beyond those of Gary Johnson. He is also less likely to champion free markets as solidly as the Libertarian candidate did. Republicans may be more turned off from him than they were from Johnson. Even so, Schultz has taken a far more patriotic tone in his interviews, so he may appeal to conservatives.
It is far too early for 2020 polls to be predictive, but a Politico/Morning Consult poll found that voters with a negative view of Trump are more open to voting third party. That makes sense, largely because Democrats do not know who their candidate will be. As the 2020 election nears, people will be far less open to voting third party — unless Schultz takes off. A CNN poll found that only 20 percent of Americans are open to voting for Schultz, and most Americans don’t know who he is.
The Starbucks CEO still has a great deal of time, but it will be difficult for him to gain the kind of traction he will need to win. It is also far from clear which candidate he would “spoil” in the election were he to lose.
Democrats freaking out about Howard Schultz are making the same mistake they made in 2016 when they complained about Gary Johnson stealing the election from Hillary Clinton. Partisans are likely to see third party candidates as a threat to their preferred candidate, even if that is not the case.
Especially in the wake of the 2016 election, Democrats blame everything they can for the victory of Donald Trump, which they see as a cataclysmic tragedy of cosmic proportions. Their blaming Gary Johnson does not make Johnson responsible for Trump’s victory, any more than their fear of Howard Schultz giving 2020 to Trump could make Schultz responsible for a 2020 Trump win. Schultz could spoil the election so Trump loses, or Schultz could actually prevail.
Bill Weld may not have a chance at beating Trump in the 2020 Republican primary, but he is right on one thing: Democrats need to cool their jets about Howard Schultz. If Democrats choose to run on socialism and Schultz ruins 2020 for them by running on a centrist platform, Democrats will only have themselves to blame.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.