It has been long speculated that Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks coffee, might run for president one day. In an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, Schultz declared that he is seriously considering a presidential run… as an independent. And that has Democrats nervous.
Already top Democratic operatives working for presidential candidates and beyond say they’re worried that the only thing he’ll accomplish is making sure Donald Trump gets reelected. It’s more than just sniping at a prospective opponent; word that he might invest in an independent run has many of them clearly worried about how he’d split votes in a general election.
Schultz has seemed to be moving toward a run for months, with interviews and speeches around the country about the inclusive policies that he says he pioneered while in charge of the company in two stints, totaling 24 years. He also talks about his vision of America, much of it informed by a trip he took to Auschwitz, which he discusses in an emotional story.
Democrats are right to be nervous. Schultz was touted as “the liberal Donald Trump” years ago. He is a Democrat, and Starbucks is known for promoting progressive causes. He even trolled Donald Trump by promising to hire 10,000 refugees in the wake of his refugee ban. Schultz is the Trump of the left and would be a formidable threat on the Democratic ticket… but as an independent, he’s far more likely to siphon votes away from the Democratic nominee. If Schultz attempts to campaign as a centrist, Democrats who feel their party has swung too far to the left might be drawn to vote for him in order to deliver a message to their party.
In response to the interview, Donald Trump taunted Howard Schultz.
President Donald Trump on Monday ripped former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, saying the business titan “doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to run for President!”
“Watched him on last night and I agree with him that he is not the ‘smartest person,’ ” Trump wrote. “Besides, America already has that! I only hope that Starbucks is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower!“
In an interview that aired Sunday night on the CBS show, Schultz said he was considering mounting an independent bid for president. The businessman, a Democrat, blasted his party and the GOP for what he called a “reckless failure” of constitutional responsibility. And he targeted the president’s social media habits.
“I think, like most people, I’ve become bored with President Trump and his tweets,” Schultz told CBS.
I have no doubt Donald Trump would love to see Schulz run. Most would agree Schultz would take more votes from the Democrat candidate, but that’s no reason to dismiss the threat he does pose against Trump. Let’s not ignore the fact that in the Trump era, several red states and districts have become competitive battlegrounds, and if Trump doesn’t deliver on the wall, or if the economy sours, there is the potential for some disaffected 2016 Trump voters to consider Schultz. Let’s not forget, Barack Obama, despite winning in 2012, lost a large chunk of support from four years earlier because he was a huge disappointment. Obama’s margin of victory in the 2008 popular vote and Electoral College vote was a big enough buffer that despite losing support, he still managed to eke out enough votes in battleground states to easily win reelection. Trump has to deliver on his promises and the economy has to stay strong for Trump to win in 2020.
Schultz won’t win as an independent, but the question remains: which voters will, in larger numbers, want to send a message to their party?
Full disclosure: I wrote this literally while drinking Starbucks coffee from a Starbucks coffee mug.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy, will be published in 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis