Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz laid out his political ambitions in a town hall event with CNN on Tuesday night, rejecting any affiliation with either major political party and telling potential voters that an independent candidate would shake things up in 2020, not spoil them.
Schultz is still weighing a bid for the presidency but touted his lengthy history leading Starbucks and his “life experience” as qualifiers for any candidacy. He continually rejected the “extreme” sides of both political parties and repeated that, in his estimation, the current political system is “so broken.”
“Both parties today on the far left and the far right are more interested in partisan politics, revenge politics,” Schultz said during the event when asked about his qualifications. “I think we could be doing so much better than we are.”
But Schultz, who has never held political office, failed to nail down firm positions on almost every policy question he was asked. During one interaction, the billionaire was asked about his opposition to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) plan to tax the wealthy at 70 percent on income above $10 million and about what tax rate he felt such Americans should pay.
“I should be paying more taxes. And people who make this kind of revenue, and are of means, should pay more taxes,” Schultz told moderator Poppy Harlow. When she pressed him on what that number would be, whether a 2 percent increase or up to a 20 percent increase, Schultz said he didn’t know.
“I don’t know what the number is,” he said, also later declining to say how he’d divest himself from about $2 billion in Starbucks stock he owns. “What I’m suggesting is that I should be paying higher taxes, and I think people across the country are willing to pay higher taxes.”
He also said he would address climate change if he were elected president, but he eviscerated the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan backed by some Democrats to tackle global warming and create jobs, as “immoral” and “not realistic.”
“Let’s be truthful, this is one thing that I’m trying to do tonight: tell you what I believe, tell you what is true and speak to you from my heart,” he said.
Schultz’s proposed bid is already unpopular. The former CEO was heckled at an event for his new autobiography, From the Ground Up, in Manhattan last month, with some saying a potential independent bid could cost Democrats support in 2020. He was slammed after another event for saying he disliked the term “billionaire” and preferred people use the term “people of means.” Schultz is worth an estimated $3.5 billion.
The potential candidate addressed the spate of criticism in an interview this weekend with SiriusXM, saying he expected some backlash “but not as acute as it has become.”
“I think the extent of [the pushback] has taken us aback a bit,” Schultz said.
Schultz addressed that criticism Tuesday but also refused to say if he would drop out of the race should he enter it, but polls next year showed the potential was for him to pull votes away from Democrats and help Trump win a second term.
“First off, the issue of being a spoiler, how can you spoil a system that is already broken?” the former CEO said. “There’s nothing in the Constitution, not one word, that says anything about parties. So why can’t I raise my voice and say I’m deeply concerned about where we are as a country?”
CNN faced a spate of criticism over its decision to air the event, since Schultz has yet to formally announce any bid for the presidency. Zac Petkanas, a former senior aide to 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, told HuffPost the move showed “elements of the media” had “learned absolutely nothing from their role in elevating a Donald Trump.”
The network has only aired one other event so far, when Jake Tapper spoke with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) last month shortly after she formally launched her campaign. CNN said this week that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) will have her own town hall next week after announcing her bid last Sunday.
Other candidates have yet to be extended invitations. The Daily Beast notes many Democrats, including South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and John Delaney (D-Md.) have not been asked to participate in such events yet. Another campaign told the news outlet that they grew frustrated after the Schultz event was announced.
HuffPost has reached out to CNN for comment.