Even rich independents don’t win the White House, and Schultz won’t be any different if he runs.
This isn’t to say that the former CEO of Starbucks isn’t an impressive guy. And he could well impact the race. In fact, Democrats are really getting agitated that he could draw enough anti-Trump votes to guarantee the president’s reelection.
That’s why I had to chuckle when Donald Trump took to Twitter to denigrate Schultz after his Sunday night interview on CBS:
“Howard Schultz doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to run for President! Watched him on @60Minutes last night and I agree with him that he is not the ‘smartest person.’ Besides, America already has that! I only hope that Starbucks is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower!”
Trump would absolutely love Schultz to jump into the race and split the opposition. The taunt is designed to prod the coffee mogul into proving his guts by running.
Once Trump, with no political experience, won the election, every wealthy businessman in America looked in the window and said, hey, why not me?
Here’s the essence of the Schultz pitch, in a New York Times interview:
“We have a broken political system with both parties basically in business to preserve their own ideology without a recognition and responsibility to represent the interests of the American people. Republicans and Democrats alike — who no longer see themselves as part of the far extreme of the far right and the far left — are looking for a home. The word ‘independent,’ for me, is simply a designation on the ballot.”
So he’s Ross Perot without the eccentricity and more left-leaning on social issues. Schultz wants to run as a sensible centrist concerned about the country’s unsustainable debt. Perot, of course, won zero electoral votes in 1992. Michael Bloomberg, who threatens to run every four years, is at least considering doing it as a Democrat.
While it’s not clear that most of Schultz’s votes would come from Democrats, the party’s anxiety is underscored by Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress. She told the Times that if Schultz runs, “I will start a Starbucks boycott because I’m not giving a penny that will end up in the election coffers of a guy who will help Trump win.” Not too subtle.
Schultz is making clear he’s not a left-winger, ripping the Medicare-for-All plan that is popular with many Democrats and calling that “as false as the wall.”
But maybe he has a carefully brewed strategy. He’s promoting a book, he’ll grab lots of media attention in the next few months, and then maybe he decides not to run — or takes the plunge because what he really wants is a platform.
Meanwhile, Kamala Harris drew a crowd of 20,000 as she kicked off her campaign in Oakland over the weekend. While much of the country is unfamiliar with the freshman Democratic senator, the media have decided she’s an early front-runner. But what is her message?
Harris is using plenty of high-flown, Obama-style rhetoric, which would obviously appeal to African-American voters who are crucial in Democratic primaries. As the daughter of black and Asian parents, Harris is well positioned on this front.
But while taking several hard shots at Trump, she also engaged in what The Washington Post described as “blunt” racial talk:
“Too many unarmed black men and women are killed in America. Too many black and brown Americans are being locked up. Our criminal justice system needs drastic repair. Let’s speak that truth …
“I’m running to fight for an America where no mother or father has to teach their young son that people may stop him, arrest him, chase him or kill him because of his race.”
The risk, of course, is that Harris could be seen as an identity-politics candidate.
Her front-runner status, at least according to the press, can pay dividends, making it easier to raise money, which in turn generates more media attention. But it’s only January of 2019. When the race heats up in the spring and summer, as more candidates jump in, Harris could be hurt if she’s seen as slipping from the top tier.
Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, is “nerding out,” says The New York Times, running as a “wonk’s wonk” by regaling audiences with policy detail and her role in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Board.
In an era when authenticity is valued, such wonkery may be the most natural style for the former Harvard professor. But will it play in an era of high-decibel Trumpian politics?
It may take lots of cups of coffee before we figure out where this race is headed.