Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has already created some bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill, but he might not be thrilled to hear the conclusions lawmakers have reached.
Members of Congress from both parties whose policy views aren’t far from Schultz’s expressed skepticism and frustration at his presidential ambitions. Many predicted that if the billionaire ran as an independent, he was much more likely to hand President Trump another term in office than to win himself.
“Third-party candidates are almost always spoilers,” warned Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), a member of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats. “Show me a spoiler who’s had the intended effect. They have high aspirations. They end up being spoilers, and for the side they’re trying to help.”
Cooper is a top Democratic doomsayer about the growing national debt and supports entitlement reform — issues Schultz says he cares about. But Cooper doesn’t want Schultz to run.
“There are many ways to help the country other than gratifying your own ego,” he said.
Would Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), a former Republican, recommend that Schultz run as an indie?
“Would I recommend it? I think that I’m looking forward to the Democratic nominee,” he said, calling it “disconcerting” and “a concern” that Schultz could play spoiler and help reelect Trump.
Crist should know: His 2010 Senate run fell far short when he ran as an independent, splitting the Democratic Party vote and handing Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) an easy path to victory.
Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) has a few things in common with Schultz: Both are socially liberal, fiscally moderate and independently wealthy.
The California congressman was quick to agree with Schultz’s recent criticism of two Democratic presidential front-runners, calling Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-CA) Medicare for all proposal a “no go” and questioning the constitutionality of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) new wealth tax proposal.
He encouraged Schultz to run — as a Democrat.
“Going outside the party system could be really damaging,” he warned. “I want it to be service over ego, not ego over service. And it concerns me that someone with that much money thinks he can do his own thing. It’s not going to serve the country very well.”
Peters warned that a Schultz independent candidacy would hurt Democrats with the upscale suburban independents who fueled the 2018 Democratic wave election.
“The problem is there’s a lot of independents that are scared by both parties, and obviously they’re turned off now by Trump but some of the more extreme stuff that comes out of our party will scare them too. So you’re offering them a place to land, whereas in a binary choice they’re probably going to go with us,” he said. “You give them someone like Howard Schultz in the middle and that gives them a landing place. I think that’s only going to hurt us.”
That sentiment was echoed by Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition and one of the few non-freshmen. Kind encouraged Schultz to run as a Democrat, and knocked him for not doing more for other moderates over the years.
“I was wondering, why an independent? We’ve known he’s been a Democrat for a long time. He should have been more supportive, quite frankly, of more moderate causes here in Congress like the New Dem Coalition or the Blue Dogs, things like that, trying to govern from the center out,” he said. “If that’s where he thinks our party and our country need to go he should have been more supportive of that in the past.”
Current and former Republican lawmakers were less critical of Schultz — but no less skeptical of his chances to win.
Former Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL), a social moderate, disliked President Trump enough that he wrote in Condoleezza Rice for president. Dold lost reelection in 2016, partly because Trump was such a drag in his suburban district, and has since launched a group to help fellow GOP centrists. He told TPM he hopes that Trump will face a real primary challenge, and said he liked Schultz’s early message — but that he had little to no chance of winning as an independent candidate.
“An independent message is one that I think is attractive but I think that’s going to have to come from one of the two major parties,” he said. “If it’s supposed to be a serious run at the White House I’m not sure that’s the path to take.”
When asked if he thought Schultz had a shot at the White House as an independent, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) replied “I don’t think he’s got a real shot at becoming president, period.”
Schultz adviser Bill Burton said he understood why lawmakers were skeptical — but argued that it was far too early to predict how a Schultz campaign would play out.
“It’s not inappropriate to have skepticism at this point. No one knows the question to whether the American people are open to this yet. All the certitude of what would happen if Howard was to run as an independent is reminiscent of the certainly people had that Donald Trump would never be president,” he told TPM. “I say give him a chance and see what the American people have to say about it. It’s very early in the process, we’re about 600 days from the election. Let’s hear him out.”
Former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA), a moderate and occasional Trump critic who just left Congress, sounded ready to do just that. Costello said he was “turned off” by the outrage from Democrats, and wasn’t so sure which party Schultz would benefit if he ran.
But he said that what he’d seen so far hadn’t convinced him that Schultz was serious, or could be a viable candidate.
“He would have to lay out a policy agenda that Americans felt more strongly about than either of the policy agendas of the other parties. … Saying you’re a centrist and wanting civility and wanting to move beyond politics, I don’t know if that’s enough,” he said. “When he says ‘Well, I don’t know what I’d do on taxes,’ if you’re running outside the traditional party lines and be the blunt-talking truth-teller, you kind of have to answer those questions early on.”
One moderate lawmaker who said he’d be “enthused” to see Schultz run as an independent: Rep. Peter King (R-NY).
But King is close to Trump, and loyal to his party.
“It would help Trump and the Republicans, definitely,” he said with a smile. “I wish him well.”