In daydreams I imagine a 2020 Democratic presidential ticket consisting of some combination of Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Jeff Merkel, Chris Murphy and Kamala Harris trouncing Trump or whoever the GOP nominates in 2020. Sometimes I throw Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand into the mix, or reluctantly configure a ticket that includes pre-boomers Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. My craziest fantasy is that Democrats nominate Hillary and she gets her, and the country’s, sweet revenge.
Really, I’d be delighted with just about any Democrat considering a presidential run, except for Beto or Tulsi. But like most people I know fed up with Donald Trump’s stupidity, racism, anti-intellectualism, bad policies and possible treason, I’d hold my nose and even vote for these inexperienced and undistinguished centrists rather than chance another term of ignorant and autocratic insanity.
But this week, those dreams turned ugly as I pondered the very real possibility that in November of 2020 Americans have the choice of a qualified Democrat versus two unqualified conservatives, Howard Schultz and Donald Trump. If Schultz runs, most experts and pundits expect him to filch more voters from Democrats than from Republicans, for one simple reason: Schultz, who proclaims he is a Democrat, will split the anyone-but-Trump vote. Non-racist centrists and conservatives planning to vote Democratic will flock to the Starbuck’s founder instead. In both 2000 and 2016, votes for third-party candidates handed the election to an unqualified Republican candidate who got fewer votes than a qualified Democrat.
I’m not sure whether this analysis is correct. We know that many business-oriented Republicans—you know, those who only care about low taxes on the wealthy and no government regulation of business—voted for Trump rather than any Democrat. It’s possible that those voters, fearful that a Democratic president will reverse Trump’s regulatory rollback and enormous tax cut for the well-heeled, are currently planning to vote Trump again, but will see Schultz as a “responsible” business-friendly alternative. In such a scenario, Schultz hurts Trump.
No one really knows what Mr. Café Latte’s influence on voters will be, but whatever it is, an independent Schultz run complicates the race into something other than Trump versus decency and science.
Schultz qualifications are as illusory as Beto’s. That he is at all qualified to be president is as ridiculous as the false but highly publicized notion that Hillary or Warren are not likeable or that Octavio-Cortez acts inappropriately. But as long as the mainstream and right-wing news media keeps pumping out these myths, the American public will have to shift through the deceptive labeling and conflation.
If Schultz runs, the media will have a field day repositioning the Democratic candidate, making her/him seem far more left-wing than he/she really is. They will keep jabbering that Schultz is a centrist, someone who represents a middle position between the generic Democrat and Trump.
His statements about issues so far put Schultz at the far right of the Democratic Party, inhabiting a space similar to Beto or West Virginia’s Joe Manchin: He thinks the national debt is the most important problem facing the country. Remember, just about every politician who has ever stated that the deficit was our biggest threat, or a bigger threat than global warming or wealth inequality, has proposed cutting Social Security and Medicare to close the deficit. While Schultz favors same-sex marriage, gun control and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, he has stated explicitly that universal healthcare—“Medicare for all”—is un-American. His negative comments about Alexandria Octavio-Cortez’s realistic and fiscally responsible proposal to raise marginal tax rates to 70% suggests that his stated support of comprehensive tax reform probably means he wants the middle class and poor to pay more and the rich to keep paying a miniscule portion of their fair share. He wants to enhance border security, but is against building a wall.
There are a lot of issues about which Schultz hasn’t thought or has only expressed superficial or fuzzy ideas, unlike the typical candidate who has a long list of positions and specific proposed legislation before forming an exploratory committee. Whereas Harris, Gillibrand and Warren will be able to give you detailed policy analysis on every major or minor issue, for the most part Schultz hasn’t thought through much, not even his aversion to budget deficits.
And yet the news media takes him seriously!
Schultz’ billions of dollars and public visibility as the creator of one of the most prominent 21st century brands gives him several unfair advantages over other candidates for president. First and foremost, his money and prominence enable Schultz to capture the imagination of the news media, much as Trump did. He is immediately considered serious, regardless of his lack of policy or government experience. The quality of his ideas matters not. Now in Schultz’s case, he really has had great success in business, unlike Trump who has run every business he ever managed into the ground except for his forays into entertainment and branding. But over the history of the United States, there has been absolutely no correlation between success in business and success in government. More important, only one president never either served in the military or in government before his election. That, of course, is the disaster who won the Electoral College vote in 2016.
Mr. Café Latte’s money enables him to ignore the primaries, and thus avoid the sifting through of candidates and positions that a political party does before agreeing on a nominee. Obama, Hillary, Bush II and even the Donald fought heavily contested primaries. By virtue of his billions, Schultz can automatically declare himself a finalist. Like so much in today’s society, it’s the privilege of instant credibility that is reserved only for the ultra-wealthy.
If Schultz is a patriot and not another billionaire full of himself, he will either run in the Democratic primaries or declare himself out of the race. If he truly cares about the United States, he will realize that his independent candidacy will only make things easier for Donald Trump. If he truly respects our American democracy, he won’t use his money to cut in line, but follow the system of primaries and caucuses that we have established after a few centuries of trial and error.