There are those things that don’t matter because they’ll never happen, but then they might happen, and then they’ll really matter. Donald Trump could be reelected in 2020 with thirty-five percent of the vote. Few would want him around anymore, but that wouldn’t matter, if there were an absurdly rich but vaguely liberal pleasant-enough fellow running as an independent, on a third party ticket. He’d get half the anti-Trump vote. Whoever the Democrats ran would get the other half of the anti-Trump vote. Trump could easily win just enough votes to do slightly better than either of them, as Trump voters don’t waver, ever.
This has happened before. In 1992, Bill Clinton won the White House with forty-three percent of the vote. George H. W. Bush won a bit more than thirty-seven percent of the votes out there. Ross Perot won almost nineteen percent. Those on the right, mainly fiscal conservatives back then, outnumbered those who had voted for that goofy tax-and-spend liberal, Clinton, but Clinton became president. Perot had screwed things up. He was never going to win, and he made Bill Clinton, a man he despised, president. He ran as a third party candidate. Third party candidates never win. Third parties never win. They just mess things up.
This has happened to Democrats. Ralph Nader got just enough votes in just the right places in Florida in 1990 – pulled from those who usually vote for the Democrats in the race – and Al Gore lost those precincts, and thus that state, and thus the national election. When he Supreme Court ordered a halt to all recounts everywhere down there, to stop the anger, then that was over. Ralph Nader gave us George W, Bush.
Third party candidates should know better. They won’t win. They can’t win. But they can hurt their friends and help those they wanted to defeat in the first place. That’s why these things don’t happen, at least all that often. These things don’t matter much, until they do matter:
Howard Schultz, former chief executive of the ubiquitous coffee chain Starbucks, teased a potential third-party White House bid on Sunday, drawing condemnation from Democrats who see a threat to their efforts to unseat President Trump.
“I love our country, and I am seriously considering running for president as a centrist independent,” Schultz wrote on Twitter.
The businessman, whose personal wealth Forbes estimates at $3.4 billion, had publicly identified as a Democrat and had reportedly toyed with seeking the party’s nomination.
Instead, Schultz told the New York Times on Sunday that he had begun efforts to get on the ballot in all 50 states.
He’s serious and that’s a problem:
When initial reports published in January indicated that Schultz was pondering an independent bid, Democrats in his home state of Washington expressed their blunt displeasure.
“Just. Don’t. If you’re a Democrat, run as a Democrat. Invest in Party infrastructure so we can win the White House, Senate, expand House majorities,” Tina Podlodowski, chair of the Washington State Democrats, said in a tweet directed at Schultz.
Schultz is a Democrat:
Schultz, 65, has been vocal on social and political issues, a rarity for often-cautious corporate leaders. During his tenure, the company undertook initiatives to hire veterans and at-risk youth, backed same-sex marriage and waded into thorny gun politics by asking people not to openly carry firearms in its locations.
Schultz’s emphasis on public service and supporting veterans – as well as his significant personal wealth – stoked speculation about his presidential ambitions.
He has been an outspoken critic of President Trump, blasting the executive order blocking refugees from predominantly Muslim countries. In response, Starbucks announced it planned to hire 10,000 refugees by 2022.
Appearing on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, he criticized Trump as “not qualified” to lead the nation…
And then he shifted. Republicans and Democrats are both evil:
He said they were “consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged every single day in revenge politics.”
He declared both major parties have been a “reckless failure” in driving the national debt to more than $21 trillion.
That’s all anyone really cares about, right?
Eli Rosenberg speaks to that:
Michael R. Bloomberg knows a lot about third parties.
The former New York mayor has been the country’s most prominent political independent since leaving the Republican Party in 2007, and he has long entertained speculation that he would run for president. In 2016, he told interviewers that he was weighing an independent presidential bid while making his distaste for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump well known.
But Bloomberg, who is considering another presidential run, is now a Democrat. It’s not that his politics have changed. The business tycoon, a noted proponent of decisions driven by data and analytics, said that he realized that an independent could never succeed in the United States’ electoral system.
In a statement released Monday, Bloomberg spoke harshly of third-party candidacies, pointing to the research he’d done on independent candidacies in the past.
His conclusion was clear: “In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up reelecting the President.”
“The data was very clear and consistent,” he said. “Given the strong pull of partisanship and the realities of the Electoral College system, there is no way an independent can win. That is truer today than ever before.”
So stop this nonsense:
Bloomberg’s statements punctuated the sustained criticism that had been directed at Shultz since his announcement.
“That’s a risk I refused to run in 2016 and we can’t afford to run it now,” he said. “We must remain united, and we must not allow any candidate to divide or fracture us.”
Michelle Goldberg sees that too:
Unlike Donald Trump, the former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz is a genuinely successful businessman who built a company that’s become part of the daily lives of people across America. For this, those of us who are horrified by Trump’s relentless grifting should be grateful. It gives us something concrete to boycott should Schultz decide to launch a narcissistic spoiler campaign for president.
She’s not happy with the idea:
In an interview with Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Schultz decried “extremes on both sides” and said he’s considering a run for president as a “centrist independent.” He hasn’t yet made up his mind, and perhaps the overwhelmingly negative reaction from almost all segments of the Democratic Party, as well as some NeverTrump Republicans, will dissuade him. There’s a danger, though, that the reality-distorting effects of being a billionaire will warp his judgment, convincing him that his business acumen is transferable to the realm of politics. If so, he could end up helping Donald Trump get re-elected.
Shultz appears to share the conviction, endemic among American elites, that the country hungers for a candidate who is socially liberal but fiscally conservative. After all, if you’re rich, you probably know a lot of people like this. “I’m a socially liberal, fiscally conservative centrist who would love to vote for a rational Democrat and get Trump out of the White House,” a chief executive of a major bank, who wanted to remain anonymous, recently told Politico, lamenting Michael Bloomberg’s poor odds in a Democratic primary.
But everyone knows the type here:
This frustrated executive’s politics aren’t widely shared by people who haven’t been to Davos. In a 2017 study, the political scientist Lee Drutman plotted the 2016 electorate along two axes, one dealing with social issues and identity, the other with economics and trade. Only 3.8 percent of voters fell into the socially liberal/economically conservative quadrant.
Indeed, Trump’s campaign demonstrated that the truly underserved market in American politics was voters who are socially conservative but economically liberal – the photonegative of what Schultz is offering. Such voters – the type who might resent both immigrants and Wall Street – make up 28.9 percent of the electorate, according to Drutman’s study.
And that leaves those other people:
Schultz makes much of the fact that around 40 percent of Americans identify as “independent.” But as anyone who has spent 15 minutes googling should know, independent is not the same thing as centrist. Most independents lean toward one party, and as the Pew Research Center has demonstrated, in the past two decades independents have grown more ideologically polarized, not more moderate.
America has two independent senators. One of them is Bernie Sanders.
Jonathan Chait simply sees a confused man:
Billionaire coffee-shop mogul Howard Schultz is seriously thinking of running for president as an independent. Schultz appears to be one of those rich people who has confused his success in one field with a general expertise in every other field that interests him. His apparently sincere belief that he can be elected president is the product of a sincere civic-minded commitment to the public good and an almost comic failure to grasp how he might accomplish this. That confusion is probably being spread by his hired staffers, whose financial incentive, conscious or otherwise, is to encourage him to embark on a costly political fiasco.
We shouldn’t feel too bad if Schultz wants to waste some of his great-great-grandchildren’s inheritance playing political fantasy camp. The problem is that Schultz’s earnest confusion might succeed just well enough to have catastrophic consequences.
Those will come along soon enough:
His public comments reveal how little he grasps about American politics.
The independent label is a myth. Schultz believes that the large cohort of Americans who identify as “independents” indicates a market for a centrist candidate positioned between the two parties. “What we know, factually, is that over 40 percent of the electorate is either a registered Independent or currently affiliates themselves as an Independent,” he says, “Because the American people are exhausted. Their trust has been broken. And they are looking for a better choice.”
No they aren’t:
That is not factual. In reality, while some voters are true independents who swing between both parties, political scientists have shown conclusively that most self-identified independents are closet partisans. They lean toward one party or the other, and they vote for that party more consistently than self-identified members of that party. The growth of the “independent” label reflects changing social mores, and the fashionability of calling yourself independent indicates an independence of thought. This is why the increase in independent self-identification has coincided with a broad decline in swing-voting and split-ticket voting.
That may leave Schultz all alone:
The reality is that a Schultz candidacy probably would draw more support from the Democrats than from Trump. Schultz has liberal views on a wide array of social issues, like immigration, gay rights, and racial justice. These cultural issues form the main basis for the polarization of the electorate. To the extent that anything has scrambled the culture-war polarization, it is Trump’s lightning-rod personality.
But this fact simply underscores the degree to which anybody who isn’t Trump simply divides the anti-Trump vote. Even conservative Republicans like John McCain and John Kasich saw their support soar among Democrats, and plummet among Republicans, because they positioned themselves in opposition to Trump. The dominant issue in American politics in 2020 is going to be Trump, and even a relatively conservative splinter candidate will tend to draw from the anti-Trump side.
This guy has it all wrong:
The center is not what Schultz thinks it is. “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,” he tells the New York Times. What would this center look like? In Schultz’s mind, it would combine his social liberalism with a desire to cut social insurance programs. “We can get the 4 percent growth,” he said last year, “we can go after entitlements, and we can do the right thing – if we have the right people in place.”
In reality, there is no constituency for cutting these programs in either party. A 2017 Pew survey found 15 percent of Republicans and 5 percent of Democrats support cuts to Medicare, while 10 percent of Republicans and 3 percent of Democrats support cuts to Social Security.
A survey of the 2016 electorate by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group plotted voters by social and economic views. What it found is that many voters have socially conservative and fiscally liberal views – those are the voters who were attracted to Trump’s combination of nativism and promises to maintain social programs and provide universal health care. Vanishingly few voters have socially liberal and fiscally conservative beliefs.
Chait is arguing that this guy has it all backwards:
There is a center in American politics, but it’s the opposite of what Schultz imagines.
Democrats haven’t moved far left yet. Having conjured an imaginary center that happens to match his own views, Schultz rationalizes his candidacy by insisting that Democrats have moved away from it. “If you have a choice between President Trump and a far-left progressive Democrat,” he says, “many people think President Trump will get re-elected.”
In theory, it is possible to imagine the Democratic nominee adopting a bunch of unpopular left-wing policies. Schultz lists what he imagines these to be: “When I hear people espousing free government-paid college, free government-paid health care and a free government job for everyone – on top of a $21 trillion debt – the question is, how are we paying for all this and not bankrupting the country?”
The trouble with his argument is that these are neither policies that the Democratic Party has adopted nor are they unpopular. Democrats have debated all of these concepts, and they have made some headway because they poll well, at least in the abstract. Free college is popular. “Free government-paid health care” is exactly what Trump promised when he was elected, and a job guarantee also polls well.
But most Democratic politicians also understand that all of these plans have significant trade-offs or implementation problems, which is why most candidates have either refrained from committing themselves to a specific program or proposed more modest versions.
So, only one side is crazy here:
Elizabeth Warren is promising a “debt-free option,” which is a far more limited proposal than “free college.” Candidates like Cory Booker have endorsed small-scale demonstration projections for a job guarantee, but nobody is proposing a national version because nobody has figured out how to design a workable plan yet. Most Democrats are signaling their desire to make incremental advances on health care, via a Medicare buy-in and a public option, rather than the full single-payer proposal supported by Bernie Sanders.
For a person who considered running as a Democrat, and whose views on Democratic politics have played an instrumental role in his decision, Schultz seems to have shockingly little understanding of the state of the policy debate within the Democratic Party.
And then there’s the debt and deficit:
Schultz’s complaint with the Democratic Party revolves primarily around the long-term debt. But while Democrats do not share his wildly unpopular belief in cutting retirement programs, they also don’t have the wildly profligate fiscal policy that has become de rigueur in the GOP. Indeed, many Democratic candidates are proposing substantial new revenue increases (most recently, Elizabeth Warren’s call for a wealth tax).
Obviously, deficit reduction is politically difficult. It’s easier to propose ideas to reduce the deficit when you’re not trying to get people to vote for you. In this context, Schultz’s answer to a question about the Trump tax cut was revealing:
“I would not have given a free ride to business, from 35 percent or 37 percent to 21 percent. It would’ve been more modest. But I would’ve significantly addressed the people who need tax relief the most, which is the people I talked about earlier, who don’t have $400 in the bank.”
Schultz is being asked about a highly unpopular Trump administration policy that increased the deficit by $2 trillion. This is the closest thing to a layup he can get. But Schultz can’t even bring himself to pose as a deficit hawk on this specific issue. Instead, he says he would have scaled back the tax cut for the rich a little, and spent the savings on a big tax cut for the middle class. If Schultz can’t hold himself to the easiest possible anti-debt stance on his very first day as a political candidate, you have to wonder about his claim that he can find the political courage on this issue that the entire Democratic Party is allegedly lacking.
It’s all nice-sounding nonsense, covering up the bigger issue:
The explanation for his confidence is surely Schultz’s belief that whatever skills enabled him to sell a lot of coffee would somehow translate into mastering a political system he barely understands. History sometimes hinges on small contingencies. It is entirely possible that the course of American history will turn on Howard Schultz’s egomaniacal ignorance.
But then there are those things that really don’t matter because they’ll never happen. Howard Schultz will listen to all the people. He won’t run – unless he does. America would then have a choice between two men of egomaniacal ignorance – one crude and nasty and the other courteous and thoughtful – but each a bit nuts. But then, who else would run for president? Anyone who wants to be president shouldn’t be.