Marisa Wright: The audacity of Howard Schultz

Monday, February 11, 2019 - 2:02pm

-

The Michigan Daily

It is hard to recall any generally well-liked public figure who has so deeply or quickly damaged their own reputation as former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. It only took him a week, but he managed to piss off almost the entirety of the Democratic Party.

During an appearance on CBS's "60 Minutes" to promote his new book, Schultz disclosed he is considering running for president in the 2020 election. He is just another in a long list of people announcing their intentions to run, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Julián Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Former Congressman John Delaney, D-Md. and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Despite an already loaded field, it is likely that even more candidates will join the race, especially given some of the prominent potential candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have yet to declare their own decisions.

Unlike the rest of these candidates, Schultz does not intend to vie for the Democratic nomination for president, despite being a lifelong Democrat. He said, “I am seriously thinking of running for president. I will run as a centrist independent, outside of the two-party system.”

In deciding to run as an independent, Schultz has decided to skip the fight. The point of a party primary is for candidates to present their ideas to the party and convince voters that their plan for the country is the best one. A primary allows a group of people with similar values to debate and vote on policies that best fulfill those values.

“The way I’ve come to this decision is, I believe that if I ran as a Democrat, I would have to say things that I know in my heart I do not believe, and I would have to be disingenuous,” Schultz said.

He has decided that his policies are so unattractive that he will refuse to do the hard work of persuasion, and instead, risk the re-election of President Donald Trump. Unlike the other candidates who have declared their candidacy, Schultz can use his billions to get his name on the ballot in every state and hire the best pollsters and strategists. These billions allow him to skip the debate exactly when the electability of candidates is so crucial.

In doing so, Schultz poses a problem for the country. If he runs as an independent, he could shave off enough votes, even if it is just 3 to 4 percent of votes, from the Democratic candidate to deliver a fatal blow. As a fiscally conservative and socially liberal centrist, Schultz does not have a big enough coalition to win. He does, however, have a big enough coalition to ensure a Trump victory. See Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.

This is the Howard Schultz problem, but there is also a problem with Howard Schultz. In the time since he has mused about running for president, he has not actually presented a substantive plan for the future of the country. He has not offered one single positive policy to solve the myriad of problems the country faces. He has also not explained why he wants to be president or why he thinks he should be president.

Instead, Schultz has attacked Democrats. He called Elizabeth Warren’s new wealth tax “ridiculous” and said Kamala Harris’ plan to eliminate private health insurance was “not American.” All of these attacks do little to help the Democratic Party but do a lot to fuel Republican vitriol and talking points.

He has demonstrated the same egotism — the same “I alone can fix it” — attitude as Donald Trump in 2016. So far, he has predicated his presidential run on his business success. To be fair, he did implement several progressive policies while running Starbucks he could potentially base his candidacy on, such as intentionally hiring both refugees and veterans, as well as giving employees paid parental and sick leave. However, he has not cited these reasons for his announcement. And if one thing is clear from the past two years, it is that being the CEO of a company does not qualify you to be president of the United States.

Marisa Wright can be reached at marisadw@umich.edu.