Is Howard Schultz a Wild Card in 2020?

FILE - In this March 22, 2017, file photo, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. Schultz has told employees at an employee following the violence at the Aug. 12, 2017, white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that bigotry, hatred and senseless acts of violence against “people who are not white” cannot stand. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

In January of this year, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that he would run for President as neither a Republican nor a Democrat.  Some within the Democrat punditry feared this possibility since it would siphon votes from their eventual nominee.  He later put his plans on hold after back surgery and the entry of Joe Biden into the race.  Schultz considers Biden a moderate much like himself and told CNN he, more than anyone else, would like to see Trump defeated in 2020.  However, he also said the Democrat Party had moved too far left for his liking.  Therefore, he is playing a waiting game to see who the Democrats eventually decide upon.

Lattes and mochas have paid great dividends for Schultz as he is worth an estimated $3.4 billion.  Although not the richest American, with that personal wealth he can mount a respectable presidential campaign.  However, Michael Bloomberg, who is more than ten times richer than Schultz, declined a similar independent run for the same reasons that may convince Schultz against a run.

The history of third-party candidates does not give Schultz much help.  Even a former Republican president- Theodore Roosevelt- could not mount a successful independent run in 1912.  The only thing Roosevelt achieved was taking votes away from Taft and ensuring a victory for Woodrow Wilson.  That is the main fear of the Democrats in 2020.

Of course, many people look to the 1992 election and Ross Perot’s independent run.  However, the 1-2 punches taken by Bush by Perot and Clinton was the more likely dynamic in Bush’s defeat.  In 2000, it is more possible that Ralph Nader is what cost Al Gore the presidency as votes in Florida for Nader likely would have gone to Gore thus pushing him over the finish line.

Hence, Schultz playing the spoiler is a more likely scenario when discussing his potential entry into the race as an independent.

Getting on the ballot could be a daunting task requiring differing numbers of signatures in different states.  The GOP and Democrats have built-in advantages and existing political infrastructure.  This is a tough task in terms of time and money and with most major donors committed to the two parties, Schultz would have to commit a large chunk of his personal wealth to this task.

There is also the “problem” of the Electoral College.  Despite his presence on the ballot in all 50 states, it is doubtful he would win a single electoral vote.  The last candidate to do so was in 1968 with George Wallace.

So what is the upside for Schultz?  First, is the mood of the country.  There are many who are fed up with both major political parties.  His likely message- a plague on both parties.  Second, it would make the campaign somewhat more interesting, just as the campaigns of Perot and John Anderson did in the past.

The downside is his own statements.  If he dislikes the presidency of Trump as much as he says, he will have to weigh his potential contribution to reelecting Trump.  Hence, the biggest fears of the Democrats are a real possibility- Schultz will siphon votes away from their eventual candidate.  We then have to look at his comments about the Democrats in general and his aversion to their Leftward lurch.  If after a few primaries it appears Biden will win the nomination, then one should not expect Schultz to get in the race.  If, however, it is someone like Harris or Warren (or even Sanders), then he would have to think long and hard because you cannot go too far beyond Left when it comes to that triumvirate.

Most importantly, a populist message played to enough of the electorate in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania for Trump to win in 2016.  If Schultz adopts the same strategy and message, he comes off as Trump-lite or an ally of Trump.  That may force voters to go with Trump since he is now a known entity.  However, if he chooses an alternative or third way- somewhere between Trump’s populism and a Democrat’s socialism- the votes take away from the Democrat while the faithful remain faithful and there are likely enough faithful remaining in these states to deliver their electoral votes to Trump.  In short, Trump wins the electoral sweepstakes without the popular vote.

Of course, I am ignoring states like North Carolina and Florida where Trump won by comfortable margins and states like Minnesota and Maine where Trump narrowly lost.  That is, lost votes in the Rust Belt can be made up elsewhere for Trump.

Regardless, the discussion is academic.  The longer the Democrat sweepstakes wears on, the less time there is for Schultz to mobilize his efforts.  In the end, those efforts may not be worth it to a man who introduced the nation to a plethora of lattes, mochas, and baristas.