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Howard Schultz: Spoiler or ‘reassuring alternative’?

Democrats condemned the former Starbucks CEO’s announcement that he may run for president as an independent, arguing that those opposed to President Trump need to unite behind one candidate.

/Elaine Thompson/AP/File
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. For someone who has given about $150,000 to Democratic campaigns over the years, Schultz is generating tepid, or even hostile, responses within the party as he weighs a presidential bid in 2020.

“Ego-crazed.” “Reprehensible.” “God help us all.”

That’s a sampling of the venom hurled by furious Democrats this week – not at President Trump, but at former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, after Mr. Schultz announced that he is exploring a run for president.

The problem? Schultz says he would run as an independent. Or as Democrats see it, a spoiler, who would have no chance of winning but very well might secure Mr. Trump’s reelection by siphoning critical votes away from the Democratic nominee.

Many were quick to dismiss Schultz’s argument that 40 percent of Americans now identify as independents because they’re more moderate than the two parties – since polling and research have shown that most of those voters, in fact, behave consistently like partisans. Likewise, many refuted his claim that there’s a large appetite for a centrist candidate who is socially liberal but economically conservative. A frequently cited study by political scientist Lee Drutman shows that, if anything, the opposite might be closer to the truth.

Not surprisingly, Schultz’s advisers – who include former Obama aide Bill Burton and former McCain aide Steve Schmidt – pushed back. “Nobody who is speculating about [Schultz playing the spoiler] on Twitter has given any thought to the possibility that the Democratic Party nominates someone who is so far to the left that it guarantees Trump a reelection,” Mr. Schmidt told Politico. “And at that point, the only person who would theoretically be able to stop Trump from a second term is a centrist candidacy of someone like Schultz.”

While it’s true that centrist, business-friendly candidates often tend to be “duds with the general electorate,” notes National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, there’s also “never been a moment in modern American history when both parties nominated populist disruptors.” If that happens, upper-middle-class suburbanites – “the kind that swung the House from Republican to Democratic control in 2018” – might be open to a third-party option.

“Just like analysts dismissed Trump winning the Electoral College, an independent candidate who could hit 30-35 percent in the polls would have a real shot at getting to 270 electoral votes,” Mr. Kraushaar writes. “If [Schultz] focuses his message on providing competence at a time of growing chaos, he could become a reassuring alternative for a critical mass of Americans in 2020.”

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