NEW YORK ― It only took a few minutes before the first heckler lashed out at former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz during his Monday evening book event at a Manhattan Barnes & Noble.
“Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire asshole!” the heckler shouted. “Go back to getting ratioed on Twitter. Go back to Davos with the other billionaire elite who think they know how to run the world!”
The comments received light boos, and the man was quickly escorted out. Then a few minutes later, a second heckler spoke up.
“Health care is a human right!” Health care is a human right! Health care is a human right! Health care is a human right! Health care is a human right!” he screamed.
So it went Monday for the Schultz, who told “60 Minutes” in a segment that aired Sunday night that he is “seriously” considering running for president “as a centrist independent, outside of the two-party system.” Schultz was at the Barnes & Noble as the first stop of a promotional tour for his new book, From the Ground Up, described as “part candid memoir, part uplifting blueprint of mutual responsibility.”
The news that Schultz might run as an independent candidate in the 2020 race has provoked swift anger from Democrats, who fear that he might make President Donald Trump’s path to re-election easier. Such talk isn’t of concern to Schultz, at least not yet.
“I’m not trying to win the Twitter primary,” he joked.
Many of the event’s attendees told HuffPost that they were tired of both parties. Schultz clearly feels the same way. When the night’s interviewer, Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times, asked about former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s statement Monday that the country “can’t afford” an independent third candidate right now, some in the audience clapped.
But Schultz, noting that about 42 percent of Americans identify as politically independent, said he believes there are also many “lifelong Democrats” and “lifelong Republicans” who are searching for something new, adding that he wants to travel the country for three months and see how people feel about the possibility of him running.
“Those two extremes [on the] far left and far right do not represent the silent majority of Americans,” he said.
Schultz took a number of shots at Trump and the Republican Party on Monday night. He said that he felt Trump has been on the “wrong side of almost every issue” and that “America should not be building walls ― we should be building bridges.”
But he spent much more time Monday dissecting the Democratic Party.
“If you kind of look at the tea leaves today, it appears that the Democratic Party is shifting far, far left with very strong, progressive ideas,” he said.
“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. For example, what the progressive, left-leaning Democratic Party is suggesting is government-paid health care for everyone, which is free ... and government-paid college for everyone.”
Schultz said he supported former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and believes the country should provide quality health to everyone, but he said current health care ideas within the Democratic Party are “unrealistic” and a potential “burden” on the U.S. government, a position that brought noticeable applause.
“If America was a company at $21.5 trillion of debt ― adding a trillion dollars a year ― we would be facing insolvency,” said Schultz, who has called the national debt “the greatest threat domestically to the country.”
Asked if Democrats could do anything to change his mind, Schultz said no.
“I don’t think their views represent the majority of Americans,” he said. “I don’t think we want a 70 percent income tax in America, and I certainly don’t think we can afford the things they’re suggesting.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has not proposed a 70 percent income tax, but she does want to raise the marginal tax rate to 70 percent for those Americans who make more than $10 million a year. At one point, Sorkin brought up a recent comment by Ocasio-Cortez’s adviser, who said that every billionaire in the U.S. is a “policy failure.”
Schultz, who was raised in Brooklyn public housing projects and is now worth more than $3 billion, called that idea “un-American” and said the word “billionaire” has become a “catchphrase.”
“I think there is a problem that she has identified. But I think the way she’s going about it ― unfortunately, she is a bit misinformed.”
On income inequality in the U.S., Schultz said the problem is ”real and must be addressed.”
“But not in a punitive way. What is required is leadership,” he said. “We can’t continue to add onto the debt. We can’t continue to add onto the inequality, but we can solve these problems if we come together.”
Sorkin also asked Schultz if he would consider dropping out if evidence showed his candidacy might help get Trump re-elected.
“I can’t answer that question today,” he said. “But I’m certainly not going to do anything to put Donald Trump back in the Oval Office.”
“One thing that’s not going to change,” he said at another point, “is my profound concern for the direction of this country and our standing in the world.”