Howard Schultz, the ex-Starbucks CEO who somehow thinks that mass-marketing lattes is a boffo presidential credential, was smacked upside the head yesterday on “The View.” Referring to Donald Trump, he said: “No one wants to see him fired more than me.” To which Joy Behar rightly replied: “And no one wants to see you run more than him.”
As Schultz tours the TV studios, touting his prospective vanity project, he seems incapable of grasping the obvious. An independent presidential bid by a socially liberal, fiscally conservative mogul would split the galvanized anti-Trump electorate, draw votes away from the Democratic nominee, and thus throw a lifeline to the sinking president. In the words of Democratic mega-donor Haim Saban (who speaks for many), “He guarantees Trump a second term.”
But it’s no surprise that Schultz refuses to acknowledge the danger. Self-entitled businessmen with zero political experience tend to do whatever they want, public interest be damned.
Sound familiar? For two long years, haven’t we had enough of that already?
Granted, Schultz is a far more authentic mogul than Trump. He didn’t get $200,000 a year when he was a toddler. He wasn’t repeatedly bailed out of bankruptcies. He wasn’t propped up by Russian oligarch money. He hasn’t (as far as we know) indulged in shady tax schemes that flirted with outright fraud. But we need to remember that the only two businessmen who ever became president, promising to “run America like a business,” are Trump and mining magnate Herbert Hoover. The latter’s one-term tenure during the Great Depression was so disastrous that the Republicans got exiled from the White House for the ensuing 20 years.
So there’s that. And how does a self-avowed “centrist,” a critic of both political parties, presume to rule in Washington when the hard job of governance requires working with both political parties? That’s a far cry from giving orders in a corporate suite, for the purpose of pleasing shareholders and investors on a quarterly basis. Schultz’s message, delivered this morning on MSNBC, is simple: “The government needs to be disrupted.” That’s precisely what the current entitled disrupter promised us in 2016. His most recent disruption took $11 billion out of the economy.
If you think it’s a stretch to suggest that Schultz would help elect Trump, check out recent history. In the 2000 election, left-wing Green party candidate Ralph Nader (who condemned both parties and said there was scant difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush) pulled 93,000 votes in pivotal Florida; Gore lost the state, and hence the presidency, by a certified margin of 537 votes. You do the math.
But 2016, of course, is more vivid in the memory. Green party candidate Jill Stein shouldn’t be blamed for Trump’s victory — lots of factors contributed to that perfect storm — but her vote tallies in the pivotal Rustbelt remain disturbing. Stein drew 51,463 votes in Michigan; Trump eked out Michigan by 10,704. Stein got 31,006 votes in Wisconsin; Trump won Wisconsin by 22,177. And Stein won 49,841 votes in Pennsylvania; Trump snatched Pennsylvania by 44,292.
Does Schultz not see the danger, that he could drain enough Democratic votes to buoy Trump? On “Morning Joe” earlier today, he answered the question: “It’s not true.”
The danger, in 2020, seems clear to everyone else. The hardcore Trump contingent is roughly 35 to 40 percent of the electorate. The cult will stick with him no matter what; even if Trump is fine with having toxic chemicals in the drinking water (which is true), his cult will dutifully swallow it. Those folks would never vote for a guy like Schultz, who disses their hero and leans left on immigration, gay rights, and racial justice. Schultz can only gain traction by diluting the Democratic turnout — especially in the red-leaning suburbs that went blue in the ’18 House elections. Theoretically, lots of anti-Trump voters might be drawn to Schultz’s fiscal conservatism — his opposition to universal health care, and the deepening budget deficit.
I’ll stress the word theoretically. Schultz said on TV today that Democrats are too “far left” for the American mainstream. That’s not necessarily true. Schultz opposes raising the federal hourly minimum wage to $15, but the Pew Research Center found in 2016 that Americans strongly support it, by 58 to 41 percent. Schultz opposes higher taxes on the richest Americans (a self-interested stance, since he’s reportedly worth $3.4 billion), but, according to an April ’17 Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans believe that “upper-income people” are paying too little in taxes, and 67 percent say the same about corporations. And according to a 2016 poll by Roper and Fortune magazine, 59 percent of Americans believe that wealth in America “should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of people.”
Schultz also seems to think that independent-minded voters will support his calls for cuts in entitlement programs (2018: “We can go after entitlements.”) Good luck with that campaign pitch. According to Pew, not even Republicans want to cut Medicare or Social Security. Only 15 percent said yes to the former, 10 percent to the latter.
It’s also unclear whether the pool of true independents is as large as Schultz believes; there’s plenty of statistical evidence that most of the people who view themselves as independent actually have partisan leanings on election day. In other words, it’s conceivable that Schultz will ultimately take a pass on 2020 and decide to spend his money more productively. But for now, I’ll just applaud the guy who heckled Schultz in Manhattan on Monday night:
“Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire!”