Axios, the online news service, quoted Philippe Reines, said to be a confidant of Hillary Clinton, “Howard Schultz is a jackass……He’s arrogant and wealthy—and those people tend to not see the world as it is.” The criticism of Schultz, founder of Starbucks, became even more hard-edged after he revealed his exploration of running for President as an Independent on 60 Minutes.
Schultz is a registered Democrat and has supported many of the Party’s candidates over the years. In the 60 Minutes interview, specifically mentioning “Medicare for All,” a slogan increasingly used by Democrat candidates, he spoke of the Party’s abrupt turn to the left and to policies that in his view would bankrupt the nation as the reason for considering the race.
Now let me step back from the intra-Party feud and assess the prospects of a Howard Schultz presidency. The prospects are not good. In my lifetime the best third Party finishers were George Wallace and Ross Perot and neither came close to winning. Perot, it is felt, kept George H.W. Bush from winning a second term. Likewise, it is felt by some that Ralph Nader, who ran as a Green Party candidate in 1996, kept Albert Gore from defeating George W. Bush. Thus, people who make money on politics are busy suggesting that Schultz would tip the election to Donald Trump.
There is a more important question than one of political calculus. In increasingly divisive times would a strong independent run help America? My answer: yes.
21st Century campaign methods and technology serve polarization. Computers, with their early version of artificial intelligence (AI) software, define us by computer number with associated socio-ethnic characteristics and government predispositions. Then the wordsmiths, working on the candidate’s tongue, contort and distort their way to campaign revenue and ultimately votes. Our international adversaries have joined in the game.
Plasticized candidates, some who start out as idealists, are shaped by the masters of the political game, scripted and then controlled. Trump’s victory owes to his breaking out of the scripted candidate mold. Clearly, although in a much different manner, Schultz is saying to Democrat Pols, “I am not going to become your version of a robot.”
Now, I have no idea how good a candidate or president Schultz might be, although he has three assets integral to such a high-risk venture. He is a true entrepreneur who took a Seattle coffee shop and turned it into a global success. Most business leaders are incrementalists, not Schultz. He aimed high, undaunted by the odds.
Second, he has enough money to fund much of his campaign which includes not just running but creating a third Party. If asked for advice, however, I would advise an active fundraising effort as donors are often motivated to champion their candidate.
Finally, he seems to have the courage to take on the naysayers and they will be plentiful and often downright nasty. Indeed, the two Party’s seem to agree about one thing: they don’t want to share their duopoly status. They like business competition but not the political kind.
If Schultz runs and shows well enough in the polls, then he will be invited to participate in the presidential debates. A three person debate would mean that verbal volleys of well-scripted lines will have to give way to more complex and revealing considerations.
Many of the analysts are concluding that there is really no room for a centrist political movement. I agree because up until now few have articulated what centrist even means, except maybe compromise. Perhaps a true entrepreneur can translate centrist principles into practical solutions. I believe there is a majority for practical solutions. Government shutdowns are not popular.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.