In a 60 Minutes interview this past Tuesday, January 27th, Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, made a provocative indication that he may be gearing up for a presidential run as an independent. With an estimated net worth of roughly $3.4 billion, Schultz would be one of if not the most well-funded independent candidate in history. He is assembling a campaign team of politically diverse operatives, reportedly including Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s former campaign manager and Bill Burton, a former White House deputy press secretary under President Obama. Schultz also made it clear in his 60 Minutes interview that he would have no problem getting his name on every ballot in the country.
This announcement led many in the succeeding days to point out the long-odds a Howard Schultz 2020 campaign would have. No independent candidate has ever won the White House. Teddy Roosevelt was the most successful third-party entrant in U.S. history. In 1912, he gained 88 electoral votes and brought in roughly 27% of the popular vote. As a long-shot, the only thing Schultz would be successful at is being a spoiler. He would siphon off votes from the would-be Democratic nominee, handing the election to President Trump.
But in his interview, Schultz discusses why he would not be the disruptive force people think he might be.
First, he says both sides are to blame for the breakdown in American politics. To quote Howard Schultz, “Both parties are consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people, and are engaged every single day in revenge politics.” This message of someone outside the party system would slice through the partisanship gripping Washington.
Second, Schultz mentions the increasing number of independents in the United States, “What we know, factually, is that over 40% of the electorate is either a registered independent or currently affiliates themselves as an independent.” A third-party candidate would reach those unbiased voters and gain a large swath of the electorate.
Both of these arguments are nonsense.
I want to make this as clear as possible, I do not think Howard Schultz can be successful as a third party candidate. Should Schultz decide to run as an independent he very well may be the spoiler that gives Donald Trump a second term.
1) Schultz’s message relies on a ‘both sides are to blame’ argument that isn’t true
One of the laziest arguments in American politics today is this idea that both sides are to blame for the inefficiency in Washington D.C. This is just not true.
It was one party that passed an unpopular tax cut for the upper tranches of American society, only
It is the Republican Party that has led to the massive stalemate in American politics today. Led by the so-called Freedom Caucus, a minority coalition of 40 tea partiers, Republicans have been the party of obstruction. The Freedom Caucus has consistently led efforts to halt any legislation that does not fit their ideological purity or oust Republican leaders they see as falling short of that same purity. In short, a minority of House Republicans wield outsized influence that can act as a veto on bipartisan legislation.
Donald Trump is the epitome of how uncompromising this party of obstruction has become. The G.O.P is the party led by someone unfit, unprincipled, and unknowledgeable about the fundamental issues facing Americans today. Having led his party through the longest shutdown in American history, Trump has shown that the Republicans don’t want to govern America. Instead, the party is filled with charlatans.
It is lazy and ill-informed to say that both parties have contributed substantially to the gridlock in Congress and Howard Schultz should think hard about that. One party, the Republicans, have been the party of obstruction, birtherism, plutocracy, and Donald Trump. The other has been about center to left-wing policies. The difference is, you can negotiate with the latter.
2) There are not as many independents as you might think Howard
Howard Schultz is right to say there are more independents in America today than in years past. The share of those who identify as independent has grown exponentially. According to a Gallup poll, in 2017, 42% of Americans identified as independent, versus 29% Democrat and 27% Republican.
But is it correct to automatically assume these voters are truly independent-minded? Some say no.
According to a piece written by political scientists, Samara Klar and Yanna Krupnikov, independents still hold on to their policy and partisan preferences even after identifying themselves as independents. As the authors write in their book, Independent Politics: How American Disdain for Parties Leads to Political Inaction, “Independents…are nothing more than partisans who don’t want to admit that they are partisans.”
On top this, independents seem to be more interested in identifying as an independent rather than truly exhibiting the qualities of being an independent-minded voter. According to studies from these same researchers, when people are asked what they would want to highlight in order to make a good impression on people, they consistently said they would present themselves as an independent. The opposite was also true. When asked what they would do to present a negative impression on others respondents said they would identify as a partisan.
A large percentage of independents are unbiased in-name-only. Howard Schultz should consider this strongly when saying that a
3) 2016 was a close election; A major third-party candidate could make it even closer
Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 electoral college vote by slim margins. In Pennsylvania, she lost by less than 1%. In Wisconsin, she lost by also less than 1%. In Michigan, she lost by only 0.3%. In Florida Trump won by one of the largest margins in any swing state, which was 1.2%.
These close results in crucial swing states highlight the delicate nature of presidential politics in an increasingly partisan America. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, the Libertarian and Green Party candidates in 2016 respectively, contributed to these close election results in 2016, and they had a fraction of the funding a potential Howard Schultz campaign would have. A well-funded, well-staffed Schultz campaign could take away more of the vote share from the Democratic nominee.
Please Howard, Run in the Primary
A Howard Schultz third-party race would not be a winning campaign. There is no both-sides argument, independents are not unbiased in their policy preferences, and he would not be able to peel enough voters off to create a winning coalition.
All of this confluence of headwinds is not meant to be a rallying cry for Schultz or his would-be supporters. I don’t want them to read this and think, “we’re gonna prove you naysayers wrong, this can be done,” because it isn’t a risk-free ending. Donald Trump would get a second term.
Therefore, Howard Schultz, I am begging you to really think hard about this possible third-party run. I know you’ve said you haven’t made a final decision yet, but please Mr. Schultz, run in the Democratic primary. You’ve said you are a life-long D
If you run as a third party, however, you are risking being the most notorious political spoiler in American history.