Howard Schultz spent Sunday getting mauled by fellow Democrats for his announcement that he may run for president as an independent, not a Democrat.
On Monday, it was President Donald Trump’s turn to pile on, taunting that the former Starbucks chief executive lacked sufficient “guts” to run for president at all.
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It was an unlikely drubbing for a political neophyte who had previously been little more than a blip on the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential primary landscape — dwarfed by a sprawling field of more experienced, more progressive and higher profile Democrats.
But his announcement sent a shiver through the Democratic Party, terrifying party officials who fear a well-funded, third-party candidate could siphon votes from the Democratic nominee and hand a second term to Trump.
Even before Schultz’s announcement on CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, one of several Democrats already running for president, complained on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that a Schultz candidacy “would provide Donald Trump with his best hope of getting reelected.”
Dan Pfeiffer, a former communications director for President Barack Obama, chastised Schultz on Twitter for a “half-baked idea” that he said “will pose an existential threat to a Democrat in what will likely be 2020 race decided by a few votes in a handful of states.”
Jennifer Palmieri, communications director of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, followed up, “Pfeiffer speaks the truth.”
Schultz, Democrats feared, could be 2020’s Ralph Nader or Jill Stein.
Third-party campaigns have traditionally met with little success in presidential politics, garnering only an insignificant fraction of the vote. But they can factor in close elections. Many Democrats accused Nader of helping deprive then-Vice President Al Gore of the presidency in 2000, though experts disagree about whether Nader’s third-party candidacy contributed to George W. Bush’s victory that year. Similarly, Democrats are still seething at Stein for votes the Green Party candidate collected in Midwestern states that Hillary Clinton narrowly lost to Trump in 2016.
In her book “What Happened,” Clinton, who won the national popular vote, said Stein “wouldn’t be worth mentioning” if not for the votes she garnered in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — crucial Rust Belt states that Trump flipped Republican in his march to the White House.
“A small but still significant number of left-wing voters may well have thrown the election to Trump,” Clinton wrote. “In each state, there were more than enough Stein voters to swing the result, just like Ralph Nader did in Florida and New Hampshire in 2000.”
Schultz, who describes himself as a lifelong Democrat, offered only a skirting response when asked if he worried about siphoning votes from the Democratic Party’s eventual nominee. He said on “60 Minutes,” “I want to see the American people win. I want to see America win.”
It‘s possible that Schultz, a billionaire businessman, will appeal to disaffected Republicans and independents who might otherwise vote for Trump — thereby helping the Democratic cause. But Schultz’s remarks on Sunday presaged a campaign that would not only cut into Trump, but also Democrats.
He said on “60 Minutes” that the United States is in a “fragile time” not only because Trump is “unqualified,” but because of “the fact that both parties are consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged every single day in revenge politics.”
Lamenting “extremes on both sides,” Schultz said, “I am seriously thinking of running for president.” If he runs, he said, “I will run as a centrist independent outside of the two-party system.”
Schultz’s both sides-ism stung Democrats, who are banking in 2020 on overwhelming anti-Trump sentiment to elevate their nominee.
Asked if a Schultz candidacy would secure Trump’s re-election, Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist in Washington, said, “If he runs, yes.”
Noting that Schultz’s new memoir, “From the Ground Up: a Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America,” was released on Monday, Feldman said voters worried about Trump winning a second term “need to figure out a way to keep [Schultz] out.”
He said, “Hopefully his three-month book tour does that.”
In his interview Sunday, Schultz expressed confidence that the historical difficulties faced by third-party candidates could be overcome in an era in which voters are increasingly eschewing partisan registration.
“If I decide to run for president, not only will I be on the ballot of every state — all 50 states — but we’ll be on the ballot in every county and every district,” he said on “60 Minutes.” “We have done that work.”
Asked if he will self-fund, Schultz said, “We’ll be fully resourced to do what’s necessary.”
On Twitter on Monday morning, Trump scoffed.
“Howard Schultz doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to run for President!” he wrote. “Watched him on @60Minutes last night and I agree with him that he is not the ‘smartest person.’ Besides, America already has that! I only hope that Starbucks is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower!”
And Schultz will face intense pressure from Democrats not to follow through with a run. Longtime Clinton adviser Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, said on Twitter, “Vanity projects that help destroy democracy are disgusting. If he enters the race, I will start a Starbucks boycott because I’m not giving a penny that will end up in the election coffers of a guy who will help Trump win.”
In Starbucks’ home state of Washington, the response from Democrats was no kinder.
“I have two words for Howard Schultz on a potential run for president as an independent: Just. Don’t,” Tina Podlodowski, chairwoman of the state party, said in a prepared statement. “Too much is at stake to make this about the ambitions of any one person. The 2020 race for President has to be about relegating Donald Trump to the dustbin of history, and reclaiming the Oval Office for our people and our future.”
The state party distributed an image of a Starbucks cup with a message printed in black marker: “Don’t do it Howard!”