A lot of people don’t trust the U.S. two-party political system, and for valid reasons; some people even feel compelled to try to force change from the outside. One of the recent attempts at actualizing presidential ambitions outside the established system is Howard Schultz, the ex-Starbucks CEO who is exploring an independent run for president. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, an independent presidential candidate has little chance of winning — even one with billions of dollars at his disposal. If Schultz seriously wants to win the presidency, he should join the Democratic primary and make his case to the millions of voters he expects to win over in a general election.
Schultz says his ultimate goal is to deny Donald Trump re-election, but he seems to have ulterior motives. In one detailed analysis, even with the most generous map for Schultz, he only helps reelect Trump, since battleground states would likely be split between Schultz and the Democratic candidate. One would think that with this information, and the findings of his own internal polling, Schultz would reevaluate the stakes of entering the race as an independent candidate. But he has yet to back down. Schultz said earlier this month that he would abandon his presidential aspirations if the Democratic Party nominates a centrist. There are some clear problems with that approach.
I doubt that highly energized progressive voters will capitulate to Schultz’s threats. It is unlikely that primary voters will select a particular nominee in order to prevent Howard Schultz from running. Voters will be drawn to the candidate who they feel best identifies with their values. Maybe this is a centrist candidate — it could even be Schultz. But if Schultz genuinely believes he can find a constituency, he should throw his hat into the primary and explain to voters why he is the best option, since he’s going to have to convince the nation eventually anyway.
Perhaps one barrier to participating in the primary is that Schultz has not yet released any specific policies that he would endorse as president, but has a lot to say about the Democratic candidates’ proposed policies. He has attacked medicare for all, saying it was “not American,” but has not given his solution to healthcare costs. He called the Green New Deal “immoral,” but has yet to present a proposal for tackling climate change. He dismissed Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax as “ridiculous,” but has no answer to combat income inequality. So where are his policies? What does he want the U.S. to look like? I am curious to see a positive vision of what a Schultz presidency could look like.
During his time as CEO of Starbucks, I liked what Schultz did. In a world where corporate responsibility is rare, Schultz made it a mission to hire veterans and refugees. He provided employees with sick time, college financial assistance and even healthcare plans. Perhaps Schultz could create a meaningful platform and add an interesting voice to the 2020 election. However, if Schultz wants a shot at the presidency, it is imperative that he run in the Democratic primary.
I don’t have personal disdain for Schultz or independent candidates in general, but I am frustrated that they give people hope they can tear down the system. The political reality is that under our current system, independent presidential candidates can only split the vote, helping one party win. Some independents, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), understand this unfortunate reality, which is why he is running as a Democrat.
So I urge Schultz: if you actually do not want to see Trump win, do not run as an independent.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, print edition. Email Nathan Maue at [email protected]