WASHINGTON ― An independent presidential bid by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wouldn’t only threaten Democrats by siphoning anti-Trump votes, it could also hurt the party’s messaging on critical issues like health care, taxes and spending.
Schultz, a self-identified “lifelong Democrat,” earned a reputation as one of the most progressive corporate leaders with his unwavering support of gay marriage, racial equality and labor-friendly policies during his tenure at the coffee company.
If he decides to go forward with what he calls a “centrist independent” bid for president in 2020, Schultz would aid Republicans in their efforts to portray Democrats as extreme and radical by proposing things like Medicare for all and the Green New Deal.
With a third-party candidate on the ballot who echoes their rhetoric, the GOP would have more room to argue that their ideas are sensible and middle-of-the-road.
“The fact that Schultz is even considering a candidacy speaks to how far left the Democratic Party has gone,” said Matt Gorman, the former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “The longer he is in the race, the more he highlights that fact. It will cause some uncomfortable questions for Democrats to have to answer on taxes, entitlements and spending.”
Schultz this week has gone after the health care and tax policies of three prominent progressives in the Democratic Party: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who are mounting a presidential bid, as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Democrats’ newest star in Congress.
The billionaire former executive called Warren’s proposed tax on Americans whose net worth exceeds $50 million “ridiculous.” He blasted Harris’ endorsement of a single, government-run insurance program modeled on Medicare as “un-American.” He used similar language to describe Ocasio-Cortez’s idea of a 70 percent top marginal tax rate on income over $10 million.
“It’s so un-American to think that way,” Schultz said at his book tour event in New York City on Monday when asked about an adviser to Ocasio-Cortez describing the existence of billionaires in the country as a “policy failure.”
The rhetorical onslaught of a would-be candidate who hasn’t even officially entered the race has left many Democrats howling, accusing Schultz of embarking on an arrogant campaign with little chance of success other than potentially handing President Donald Trump a second term in office.
“The reason his [campaign] rollout is going so bad is not just because they’ve failed to execute well, but that the idea has no constituency outside of his personal friends,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said Tuesday.
Democrats are also irked that Schultz has stomped on their string of victories in Congress in recent months by dominating media coverage this week in multiple appearances on national television, despite November’s 40-seat pickup in the House and Trump’s cave-in on the government shutdown.
But Republicans are clearly enjoying the show. They’re happy to point to Schultz’s criticisms as yet more evidence that Democrats are wrong about the direction they want to take the country in as the 2020 presidential campaign ramps up.
We’re going to see no shortage of Democratic freakouts over the next two years. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
“Any help we get in terms of sending the message that a single government-run health care plan that just raises people’s taxes and takes away the ability to provide Medicare for individuals over the age of 65... I think sending that message is a good one,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told HuffPost on Wednesday.
He added: “So if Mr. Schultz or other members... that are closer to the middle are prepared to say that, that’s probably healthy for the debate.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said he was skeptical about the viability of a Schultz candidacy and whom it may help in the 2020 election. But he, too, said he liked what he heard from the former executive about health care and government spending.
“I think he’s being realistic. No one really seriously believes we can find $3 trillion a year to pay for everyone’s health care in America,” Kennedy said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a former GOP presidential contender with an affinity for political combat, appeared to be relishing the controversy when asked about Democratic criticism of Schultz.
“We’re going to see no shortage of Democratic freakouts over the next two years,” Cruz said Tuesday. The remark elicited a belly laugh from Sen. Debbie Fischer (R-Neb.), who was seated next to him on a Capitol subway car.