How far can former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz go as an independent presidential candidate, now that he's told the world that he's seriously weighing such a run?
Look no further than the Sunday edition of The Drudge Report.
At the top of the home page, in a screaming banner headline: "Schultz To Run As An Independent . . . Blasts Both Parties".
And beneath that, at the top of the righthand column but in smaller, more subdued print: "Hillary Not Ruling Out 2020".
Not since 1848 has an American electorate preferred a presidential candidate who wasn't a Republican or Democrat.
And in the past 170-plus years, no third-party contender has come even remotely close. Teddy Roosevelt collected 27% of the national vote in 1912, but a mere one-fifth the number of Woodrow Wilson's electoral votes. Since 1920, only three third-party candidates — Robert La Follette in 1924, Strom Thurmond in 1948 and George Wallace in 1968 — have been able to win even a single electoral vote. Can Schultz manage to capture either one state or one electoral vote, should he go through with his presidential run?
It's a good question to ask â€“ if he's doing it in the context of a Trump-Clinton re-match, the awfulness of which cannot be understated.
Imagine the New England Patriots playing . . . the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, or your cable lineup reduced to just one channel that shows nothing but The View all day long. Trump-Clinton II could be a greater assault to the senses as it will be as much about relitigating 2016 than anything having to do with America's future.
About the candidate: Howard Schultz comes from humble beginnings (he grew up in Brooklyn public housing). And he had the vision and good business sense to see that over-priced coffee beans could be worth their weight in gold (Schultz's net worth is estimated in the neighborhood of $3 billion).
Yes, Schultz faces a few obvious questions right out of the blocks. For example, what has America's addiction to Starbucks meant for the nation's physical and economic well-being?
Should Elizabeth Warren turn the 2020 election into a referendum on personal wealth and corporate greed, what's Starbucks' defense? In case you haven't noticed, custom-ordered coffee drinks offer excellent profit margins.
And if you're into sports, you might struggle to get past Schultz's shameful treatment of Seattle basketball loyalists (Schultz sold the NBA Seattle Sonics to out-of-towner buyers, at times acting childish as an owner, then feigned innocence when the franchise moved to Oklahoma City).
So how does this independent candidacy fit into the 2020 landscape? Let's start with the billionaire boys' club â€“ Schultz, Trump and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg seems determined to run in an already congested Democratic field. It's an awkward fit, at best.
Democratic activists will love Bloomberg's headlong pursuit of gun control and his priggish, nanny-state attitude to the likes of soda, salt and smoking.
But Bloomberg was also a charter-school supporting, law-and-order mayor fond of tough practices like "stop and frisk." That won't play with the MSNBC crowd.
Something else about Michael Bloomberg: he runs at one speed in campaigns â€“ financially over-caffeinated.
In his three New York mayor campaigns, Bloomberg spent over $265 million of his own fortune (I remember this painfully in 2009, trying to listen to New York Yankees broadcasts, yet unable to escape the barrage Bloomberg radio spots between innings).
Schultz, a lifelong contributor to Democratic candidates, needn't flood the airwaves at first. He already has enough riled Democrats providing free attention â€“ for example, this tweet from Obama loyalist Dan Pfeiffer calling the independent run "a half-baked idea", and this tweet from the Washington State Democratic Party showing a Starbucks cup with "Don't do it, Howard" scrawled across it.
For now, I'm willing to listen to Schultz because what he said on 60 Minutes will resonate with a campaign-fatigued public: "We're living at a most-fragile time. Not only the fact that this president is not qualified to be the president, but 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."
And I'll keep listening if Schultz sticks to this line, from two years ago and right after he announced his Starbucks departure: "It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, "How are we going to pay for these things?" in terms of things likes single-payer [and] people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job."
Schultz added that the greatest threat domestically to America is "this $21 trillion debt hanging over the cloud of America and future generations. The only way we're going to get out of that is we've got to grow the economy â€“ in my view, 4% or greater. And then we have to go after entitlements."
If Schultz sticks by those words and gets any kind of traction by the fall of 2020 â€“ polling somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% â€“ then I'd give him a spot in the presidential debates, alongside the Democratic and Republic nominees.
In 2016, a record 259 million Americans watched the three Trump-Clinton television extravaganzas.
Imagine what a better production it would be with a disruptor on the stage.
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