Here’s a prediction: Howard Schultz is due for some Strange New Respect. That’s the jokey term applied to someone who bends the Main Stream Media’s way—and that’s exactly what Schultz is now doing.
The Starbucks mogul has, of course, been flirting with national politics for years, publishing various self-back-patting books about himself, touting woke causes, endorsing Hillary Clinton, and taking occasional swings at Donald Trump (who, of course, has been happy to hit back).
As far as the Main Stream Media was concerned, Schultz’s presence on the national stage was all fine and good; after all, everyone needs a hobby, and if Schultz’s hobby is corporate liberalism, okay. Why, even if he wanted maybe to seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, well, that was all right, because nobody thought he had a chance to slip past the likes of Democratic warriors such as Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, or Cory Booker.
Yet Schultz took a bad tumble in late January, when he announced that he was really thinking about running for president, not as a Democrat, but as an independent. And to underscore his seriousness, he announced that he had hired two well-known political operatives, one from each party. That duo was Steve Schmidt, a Republican (strictly speaking, an ex-Republican, as in 2018, he had announced he was quitting the Trumpified GOP, which he deemed to be “corrupt” and “immoral”), and Bill Burton, a Democratic veteran of the Obama White House.
Old-timers recalled that this was the sort of bipartisan pairing used by another independent billionaire, Ross Perot, in 1992. Back then, Perot hired Ed Rollins, a Republican, and Hamilton Jordan, a Democrat, to be the co-managers of his campaign. And of course, Perot did pretty well by indie standards: He won 19 percent of the vote. That was indeed a lot, and since Perot spent most of the campaign attacking the Republican incumbent, George H.W. Bush—while sparing the Democratic challenger, Bill Clinton—he did vastly more damage to Bush. So no wonder Clinton won, albeit with a mere 43 percent of the popular vote.
So we can see: If an independent candidate runs, and spends enough money, he can have a major effect. And so it matters, a lot, how that independent tilts his campaign: Who is his target? Who does he aim to hurt?
In the case of Schultz back in January, the MSM, nudged along by associated Democrats, did a quick calculation and figured that, unlike in ’92, a Schultz independent candidacy in ‘20 would hurt the Democratic challenger far more than the Republican incumbent. That is, since Schultz was a Hillary Clinton-type Democrat, he’d most likely draw from Hillary-type voters. And it’s those Hillaryish voters whom the Democrats would need to win next year.
So the bat-signal went out: Stop Schultz. And the Democratic faithful responded: Schultz was deluged by a typhoon of negative coverage; phrases like “egotistical billionaire [bleep] hole,” and “total idiot,” resounded through the headlines. And from Schultz’s point of view, perhaps the most ominous header of all: “Boycott Starbucks.”
Within a few days, Schultz had buckled. He sought to reassure Democrats that he would not be a spoiler; that is, he would not run if it would help Trump win a second term.
Yet at the same time, it was obvious that he had things to say, and the passion—or, if one prefers, the ego—to want to keep saying them. He was, after all, a Hillary Democrat, not an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Democrat, and he made that plain.
At which point, back on January 30, this author suggested that there was a way for Schultz to have his coffeecake and eat it, too. That is, Schultz could run for president, enjoying the experience (and why not? he has everything else), and yet not spoil the election for the Democrats.
You see, as an independent, Schultz would have the option of choosing the states in which he wanted to get on the presidential ballot. As such, if he wished, he could avoid seeking ballot access in swing states—such as Colorado, North Carolina, and Ohio—where even a few Schultz votes could make the difference, throwing the state’s electoral votes to Trump. Instead, he could file to be on the ballot only in deep-red states—such as, say, Alabama, North Dakota, and West Virginia—and he could campaign in those places to his heart’s content. (We might recall that this is the way that Never Trumper Evan McMullin campaigned in his indie bid in 2016; he focused on his home state of Utah, hoping to yank the Beehive State’s six electoral votes out of the Trump column.)
Indeed, with such a targeted campaign, and with enough money, Schultz could actually be an asset to the Democrats. That is, he might be able to peel away enough Republican votes in a state or two, thereby giving the electoral votes to the Democratic candidate. If so, he would have gained that Strange New Respect. Why, he could even expect that every grateful Democrat would order more frappuccinos.
With this in mind, it was intriguing to see an article in The Hill on March 7, headlined, “Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid.” The new hires are Brendon Del Toro, Matt Lo Parco, and Greg Strimple, all of whom have worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the official campaign arm of the House Republicans. Which is to say, the three are, or at least were, real Republicans.
And if this trio is now going to work for Schultz, and his top Republican aide, Schmidt—whose Never Trump credentials have always in good standing—then it’s easy to see that if Mr. Starbucks runs they will, in fact, be targeting Republican voters. After all, if you were targeting Democratic voters, you wouldn’t be hiring GOP operatives.
So thus we see the outlines of a plausible plan for 2020: Schultz, aided by his Republican hirelings, goes after Republican votes, seeking to siphon them away from Trump. That’s not a plan for winning the White House, it’s a plan for being a Democratic hero.
In fact, just on March 8, Schultz tweeted, “America’s free-enterprise system has provided more opportunity and created more prosperity than any other economic model in the history of the world.”
That’s exactly the sort of tweet you send out if you’re on the hunt for Republican votes.