Nobody wanted this.
Nobody has wanted this for a long time.
Howard Schultz, Seattle's most successful bean juice salesman, has been threatening to run for president for years. In 2015, the Seattle Times called rumors of a Schultz presidential bid "a seasonal tradition nearly as predictable as the pumpkin-spice latte."
At the time, Democratic leadership greeted the possibility of a Schultz campaign with disdain. Here's what the former head of the state party had to say to the Times: "Nobody has come to me and said... 'I wish we had a corporate CEO running as a Democrat for president.'"
A week before Schultz put a nickel in his own back and announced his potential presidential ambitions to Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes, the Washington State Democratic Party sent out a two-word command. "Just. Don't." They didn't want Schultz on the top of the Democratic ticket, and they certainly didn't want him to run as a self-funded independent who will divide the anti-Republican vote and throw the election to Donald Trump.
Fellow billionaire Mike Bloomberg doesn't want Schultz to run, either. "The data was very clear and very consistent," he said recently, referring to his studies of a possible independent bid. "Given the strong pull of partisanship and the realities of the Electoral College system, there is no way an independent can win. That is truer today than ever before."
You'd think at least Republicans would be more encouraging. But the chair of the Washington State GOP called Schultz a sellout in the Seattle Times for handing over the Seattle SuperSonics to a bunch of Oklahoma businessmen, who later moved the team to Oklahoma City. "I think there are a lot of people who have long memories and are not going to forget how that went down," Caleb Heimlich told the Seattle Times. Though Schultz has apologized about the sale in public and in his new book, From the Ground Up, no one sees it as anything other than a self-serving move to save face.
The establishment types were harsh, but Twitter was worse. As soon as the 60 Minutes interview aired, Twitter users ratioed every one of his tweets—meaning, they responded to each clumsy little dispatch with many more comments than the number of likes or retweets.
"Slurp a turd my man," wrote comedian Rob Delaney.
"No one wants you. The only thing you will unite in this country is a mass boycott of Starbucks," wrote Sarah Kendzior, a journalist and author of The View from Flyover Country.
"The Venn diagram of 'People Who Think Howard Schultz Should Be President' and 'Howard Schultz' is a circle," wrote Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings.
"I swear to fucking god," wrote HuffPo's Ashley Feinberg, a genius.
Schultz has tried to run damage control, but he has consistently failed to win a room, mostly because he can't seem to read one.
When he appeared on The View, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, and Meghan McCain gave him the side-eye and dismissed his claims.
In his adopted hometown of Seattle, 40 protesters—including King County Executive Dow Constantine—stood outside the Moore Theatre the night Schultz appeared there with picket signs and bullhorns. "Compost your campaign," one sign read.
In Washington, DC, he got a similar welcome, only out there he was greeted with roving electric billboards that featured his face next to the phrases "Roasting America" and "Don't Do It, Howard."
After a while, you start to feel bad for him. But then you hear him talk. When he talks, he sounds like a guy who stepped out of a time capsule from 1995. He's got slicked-back hair, a three-billion-dollar smile, and a huge boner for blathering on about the size of the national debt.
He has no idea who we are as a country now, no idea how Trump became president, and so much palpable fear that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is going to tax his Frappuccino dividends at a reasonable rate that he's willing to hold the country hostage unless a moderate wins the Democratic nomination.
But it's not even clear that he'll pull out if a "radical" Democrat turns out not to be the party's nominee. Schultz says he'll drop out of the race if he looks like he'll be a spoiler, but his campaign also dismissed recent analysis showing he has no path to victory. Citing his own polling, he is content to don blinders, surround himself with yes-men, and try to drag the country off a cliff.
Schultz's billions enable him to get away with all of this. And the most galling feature of his shtick is that he uses his "rags-to-riches" story as a shield against the accusation that he's an out-of-touch billionaire.
Though he constantly claims running as a Democrat would be "disingenuous," he demonstrates an obscene level of disingenuousness when he claims to be a living vessel for the concerns of "people who feel left behind" (unwittingly borrowing one of several phrases straight from Trump's mouth).
Schultz may have grown up in public housing, but a couple decades of incredible wealth have clearly insulated him from the fears, passions, and everyday concerns of the people he's hoping to represent. When Monica Guzman of the Evergrey asked him, for instance, why he had voted in only 11 of the last 38 elections, he turned to her and said, "Listen, I travel the world. It's not an excuse, but..."
No pause. No acknowledgment that he just blamed his lack of engagement in a state with mail-in ballots on his international travel schedule. No self-awareness about how he sounded to an audience full of non-billionaires willing to hear him out.
Sean Grady, a 33-year-old Seattleite who attended Schultz's event at the Moore, was not impressed. "I thought it was pretty pathetic. Extremely vapid," he said.
"We're seeing a vanity campaign from a billionaire who's clearly out of touch," he went on. "He provided no policy prescriptions, didn't touch on income inequality, didn't talk about rising student debt. He pooh-poohs ideas like Medicare for All, but comes up with nothing of his own. I'm a young person. I'm 33. Our generation graduated at the worst time in the economy and got fucked over, and he talked about nothing in terms of relief for us. He just said we needed to come together as a country and get along. Great."
In subsequent interviews, Schultz keeps proving Grady right. He thinks one of the major problems facing America is excessive criticism of people who have "succeeded" (i.e., hoarded wealth), which is why Schultz told a reporter at CNBC that we should start using the phrase "person of means" or "person of wealth" instead of using "this moniker, billionaire."
At Purdue University, he boldly revealed his plan to release his tax returns. When nobody in the audience responded, Schultz pulled a Jeb and said, "You can clap for that," before grinning like a smug dad. He asked the crowd to clap again when he praised the university for reducing the cost of an education "in nominal dollars in 2020." Only a man worth $3 billion could expect a crowd of students to clap at the news that the head administrator at a school they pay way too much money to attend had technically lowered tuition, if you don't count for inflation, for the following year's class.
This is the man who claims to speak for "the silent majority" of America.
Speaking of racist dog whistles, Schultz blew a big one during a Houston town hall hosted by CNN, during what was supposed to be the big national reset moment for his campaign.
But when asked a question about whether he thought the four hours of racial bias training he mandated for all Starbucks employees was a sufficient response to the racist incidents that had occurred at his stores, his parody of a clueless boss achieved new heights. He said he "didn't see color as a young boy, and I honestly don't see color now." Cue a million Stephen Colbert and Michael Scott memes.
His response to blowback about all of this stuff is the same: "Hey, I'm self-made!" he says. "I grew up in the projects of Brooklyn!" he says.
We've since learned that Schultz didn't see color growing up mostly because he didn't have to. HuffPost reports that the project Schultz grew up in, Bay View Houses, was a "middle-income" development designed for working-class people. The average income of the place when Schultz lived there was approximately $70,000 in today's dollars. Citing New York City Housing Authority documents, HuffPost shows that the project was more than 90 percent white.
And Schultz may have grown up in the projects, but that doesn't mean he learned compassion for the people there. In the first few chapters of his book From the Ground Up, Schultz more or less says that his early feelings of self-worth derived from winning at sports, even though he admits he was "inches above most kids" his own age. That doesn't sound like compassion; it sounds more like a love of domination.
When he talks about the poker games his grandmother hosted so the family could earn extra money, he barely hides his disgust of the players, who smoked cigarettes and cussed and, yes, treated his mother poorly. He looks down at his father, who drove a diaper truck for a living, for occasionally "treat[ing] himself to a manicure and a pricey haircut" even when short on rent. As a boy of 7, Schultz felt "ashamed" to have to lie to bill collectors on the phone.
In other words, he doesn't "get" poor people—he fears them. In his version of reality, there seem to be "good" poor people like himself, who unwittingly leveraged their privilege during an extremely fortuitous economic period in American history to achieve success, and "bad" poor people, who choose to be poor. If you give those bad people long-term government assistance, they're going to abuse the system. This is the stupid bullshit every Republican believes.
The whole point of Schultz's boyhood story is to show us that the lack of a safety net for his father made him realize he needed to provide benefits to his "partners," as he condescendingly calls Starbucks employees.
Except, as Eric Scigliano reported for Politico, "Schultz did not bring health coverage for part-time workers to Starbucks... part-timers at Starbucks' roasting plant and warehouse secured that coverage, plus paid vacation and sick time, which full-time employees already had, the year before Schultz took over the company in 1987." Those workers did so through their union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Scigliano goes on to show that Schultz tried to roll back those benefits when the contract was up for negotiation again, and when that failed he "brought in consultants and attorneys specializing in anti-union campaigns to assist its decertification." So even though Schultz made a business decision to not chop health benefits when he was being pressured by investors to do so, his recollection of his father's rough time isn't why his employees had benefits in the first place.
The other reason people are rejecting Schultz so vociferously is that his ideas are bad, tired, and dangerous. He completely misdiagnoses the country's problems, mostly because his very existence as a billionaire is one of country's biggest problems.
As mentioned earlier, Schultz made his billions selling highly addictive bean juice to an increasingly overworked and underpaid but nevertheless extremely productive American workforce. But he didn't succeed based on the taste of the coffee. He succeeded based on his ability to sell the theater of Italian coffee culture to Americans. If only Schultz had fallen in love with the theater of Italy's nationalized health care system, we'd all be in a better place by now. But, alas.
According to Schultz, Congress doesn't truly represent most Americans because Republicans and Democrats have been taken over by radical progressives on the left and extremist Trumpians on the right. He sees ideas like Medicare for All (which Kamala Harris supports) as "un-American," he thinks a tax on millionaires (which Elizabeth Warren supports) is "ridiculous," and he thinks Trump is a disaster (true).
For Schultz, the great moral crisis of our time is the size of the national debt. In an interview with CNBC, he called it "the greatest threat domestically to the country." The only way to bring the country together and fix that crisis, he asserts, is to give Americans the choice to vote for a "centrist independent" like himself. Citing the statistic that 40 percent of Americans identify as "independent," he insists that there's plenty of opportunity for him to succeed.
Let's take those claims in order.
First of all, Schultz overstates the power of progressives in the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders did not get the nomination; Hillary Clinton did. In the US House of Representatives, progressive Democrats make up less than half of the current Democratic caucus, and less than a quarter of the House as a whole.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus counts exactly one senator—Sanders—among its ranks. Moreover, a lot of them just got there, and some of them aren't that progressive. Institutionally, the left is represented in the House mostly by moderate Democrats whose views closely align with Schultz's. There's very little daylight between his socially liberal/fiscally conservative ideas and the New Democrats in Congress.
When Bernie Sanders announced his 2020 presidential bid, a CBS anchor mentioned Schultz's promise not to run if a moderate is nominated, and Sanders replied, "Oh, isn't that nice? Why is Howard Schultz on every television station? Why are you quoting Howard Schultz? Because he's a billionaire."
Schultz criticizes Sanders for pushing policies that would, in his view, run up the $22 trillion national debt. But moaning about the national debt is the sound a Republican makes before slashing earned benefits to pay for corporate tax breaks.
Just ask former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who ran up the deficit with corporate tax cuts while promising to go after Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security to pay for it—after claiming, of course, that the tax cuts would pay for themselves. Just ask any member of the Tea Party, who used the specter of default on the national debt to justify gutting Obamacare. Schultz plans to follow in the footsteps of such hucksters, telling CNBC back in June that the only way we're going to reduce the debt is to grow the economy and then "go after entitlements."
Schultz is revealing himself not to be a "centrist independent," but rather, a standard Republican. Even if he were the independent he claims to be, he wouldn't represent the worldview of the 40 percent of Americans who also claim that label. Most of those self-identified independents are just Republicans or Democrats trying to sound edgy or above the fray. According to the Washington Post, the number of "true independents" hovers around 12 percent.
If Schultz really wanted to represent "centrism" in American political thought, he'd be screaming about the need to pass Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Recent polling shows Medicare for All with 60 percent support in general. Meanwhile, 98 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans support the Green New Deal.
But Schultz doesn't want to hear what a majority of Americans are trying to tell him. Or at least he's pretending he can't hear it. That's because America's new dream—my dream, your dream, the dream of everyone we know—is for him and every other self-important billionaire like him to pay their fair share and to get out of politics forever.
America wants to tax the rich. America wants to raise the minimum wage. America wants health care for all and solutions to the climate crisis commensurate with the size of the imminent planetary disaster facing us. The last thing America wants is another CEO running for president. We already have one in the White House, and he's doing a very bad job.