Democrats beg Howard Schultz not to run as independent and split anti-Trump vote: 'Too much is at stake'

Businessman has been exploring a possible run for at least a year 

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 21 January 2019 19:49 GMT
Howard Schultz: 'it concerns me that so many voices in the democratic party are going so far to the left'

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been urged not to run as an independent in the 2020 presidential race and split the anti-Trump vote, with a warning that “too much is at stake”.

Since the 65-year-old stood down last summer as executive chairman of the coffee company he turned into an international brand, he has made little attempt to hide the fact he is considering a White House run. He has assembled a team of advisers and is about to embark on a tour to promote a new memoir, From the Ground Up – all the sort of behaviour of someone eyeing entering the race.

Until this point, it was assumed that if Mr Schultz ran, the lifelong Democrat would join the rapidly expanding field of Democratic candidates – among them Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, and most recently Kamala Harris.

But late last week, it was reported that Mr Schultz, whose net worth is estimated at $3.3bn, was considering running as an independent candidate, a move that would almost certainly split the anti-Trump vote. The Washington Post said that according to two people informed of the discussions, he and his advisors have been considering entering the race as an independent.

The news was met with horror among Democratic officials, who are seeking to avoid a repeat of what played out in 2000, when the presence of Ralph Nader in the race, as the candidate of the Green Party, was blamed for siphoning off crucial votes that might have gone to Democrat Al Gore.

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As it was, the race came down to Florida where Republican George W Bush beat Mr Gore by just 600 votes. In Florida, Mr Nader’s campaign secured 100,000 votes, something for which many people never forgave him.

Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski issued a blunt waring to Mr Schultz. “I have two words for Howard Schultz on a potential run for president as an independent: Just. Don’t,” she said. “Too much is at stake to make this about the ambitions of any one person.”

Howard Wolfson, a strategist for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who is now advising former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is considering a presidential run as a Democrat, told the Post: “Anyone thinking of running for president as an independent would have to think really hard about splitting the anti-incumbent, anti-Trump vote and just playing the spoiler role and reelecting Trump. “I think that would be a terrible legacy for anyone to leave.”

Political commentators, and politicians, frequently complain about the fact the US is effectively a two party system, with all the compromises that forces on both candidates and voters – radical enough to appeal to the base of each party but mainstream enough to be able to appeal to moderates in both party.

Traditionally, parties from third parties, such as the Green Party and Libertarian Party do not perform well. The huge sums of cash required for any run, make it a huge challenge with the backing of one of the major parties and their donors.

In 2016, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, who had once been polling as high as 11 per cent, ended with 3.25 per cent of the vote, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein managed just 0.4 per cent.

Sometimes, however, third party candidates can make an impact – even enough to alter the course of the outcome. In addition to Ms Nader’s run in 2000 and 2004, the best known third party candidate was Ross Perot, a businessman who in 1992 and 1996 contested as an independent.

In the end, the folksy, self-funded Perot received 19 per cent of the vote, compared to 43 percent for Bill Clinton and 37 per cent for Republican George HW Bush. A number of Bush campaign officials believed Perot drew more votes from Republicans than Democrats.

As it was, had Perot, who is now aged 88, had not dropped out of the race and then reentered just weeks before polling day, he may have done even better. When the contest started, he outpolled both of the main candidates.

Mr Schultz’s office did not immediately respond to enquiries.

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