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Running Starbucks Doesn’t Mean You Should Run for President

Ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is mulling a presidential run as an independent candidate

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White House: Getty/Alex Wong; Howard Schultz: Getty/Stephen Brashear

After years of rumors and speculation, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced Sunday in a tweet that he’s “seriously considering running for president.” The billionaire businessman is pursuing his potential candidacy as an independent, leading many to express concern that he could help Trump win in 2020 by serving as the “next Jill Stein,” siphoning votes away from whoever the Democratic candidate ends up being.

Appearing Sunday night on CBS’s 60 Minutes, the former Democrat had strong words for both parties, saying that the free universal healthcare proposed by some Democrats is “as false as the wall” and pointing to the massive national deficit as “a reckless failure of [both parties’] constitutional responsibility.” He told Axios, “I’m not considering this to win the Twitter primary... I believe that lifelong Democrats and lifelong Republicans are looking for a home, and they’re not spending hours and hours on Twitter.”

So what qualifies the former CEO of Starbucks to be the leader of the free world anyway? It’s true that under Schultz, Starbucks achieved wide acclaim for having some of the best benefits across the restaurant industry: Employees only have to work part-time to qualify for healthcare coverage, and the chain has the best parental leave policy of any major restaurant chain. It also offers workers paid sick leave, a rarity in the restaurant industry, and gives employees who don’t already have a four-year degree free tuition via Arizona State University.

Schultz has also proven he can seemingly run a company much more effectively than current POTUS Donald Trump: Under his reign — Schultz served as CEO from 1987 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2017 — Starbucks rose from fledgling Seattle coffee shop to global chain superpower. Since the company’s initial public offering in 1992 to the time Schultz stepped down as leader last year, Starbucks’ stock rose 21,000 percent.

Schultz says he wants to unite a divided America, but his previous efforts in that area proved too aspirational — and frankly just plain misguided — even for a coffee shop chain. 2015’s “Race Together” campaign, which asked baristas to write messages on customers’ cups to spark conversation about race, was almost astonishingly ill-conceived, and it seemingly didn’t accomplish much in the way of bringing about greater racial harmony even at Schultz’s own company: Two years later, Starbucks found itself in the midst of a huge PR disaster and national controversy after a store manager in Philadelphia called the police on two black men for no good reason. Other progressive Starbucks initiatives, such as hiring 10,000 refugees and introducing more “inclusive” holiday coffee cups, have made the company a popular target for conservative backlash.

Running as a third-party candidate has never served as more than a spoiler role in a presidential election, though they have on occasion made a big impact on the results: In 1992, for instance, Texas billionaire Ross Perot won nearly 20 percent of the vote as an independent candidate, leading some to believe he aided Bill Clinton in defeating incumbent George H.W. Bush. Fellow billionaire businessman and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg had also previously considered running as an independent in 2020, but on Monday he released a statement making a not-so-subtle jab at Schultz, saying “...there is no way an independent can win...In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up re-electing [Trump].”

Of course, it’s not yet clear exactly what Schultz’s actual proposed policies would be. But on Monday night the businessman kicked off a tour for his newest book From the Ground Up at a Barnes & Noble in NYC where he went into more detail about his political ambitions: According to the Daily Beast, Schultz doubled down on his view that “Medicare for All” is unrealistic, and said that while he’s against building the wall, he agrees with Republicans that border security is necessary and he’s against abolishing ICE. (The event was also attended by at least two protesters, who shouted things like “Go back to Davos” and “Healthcare is a human right.”)

While many of Schultz’s views align with the general Democrat platforms, such as giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and opposing Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreements, he also stated that Democrats would not be able to convince him to run in their primary instead, noting that he’s against the 70 percent income tax for the ultra-wealthy proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Schultz’s net worth is an estimated $3.4 billion.

Schultz has previously proclaimed America’s $21 trillion debt “the greatest threat domestically to the country” right now, though he hasn’t yet provided any concrete details yet on how he’d propose to actually solve this. The U.S. hypothetically defaulting on that mountain of debt could throw the country into financial crisis, but the nation’s leading credit agencies don’t seem to be too concerned about that possibility.

In an op-ed published Monday in USA Today, Schultz refutes the notion that his candidacy could help reelect Trump, writing, “To suggest that either party’s candidate could lose because of a third choice is intellectually dishonest.” Nonetheless, “I won’t run for president unless I think I can win,” Schultz says.

Part of switching gears from a Frappuccino impresario to a politician apparently involves starting fresh on Twitter: All of Schultz’s previous tweets from his seven-year-old account have been deleted. One of the handful of tweets now populating his timeline features a video of the would-be candidate expressing his “profound concern for the country and for the millions of Americans that are being left behind.”

But surely there are scores of other ways the billionaire could achieve that besides running for the nation’s highest office. Rather than forging ahead with an almost certainly ill-fated presidential campaign, Schultz ought to adopt the old “Think globally, act locally” mantra. His experience running one of the world’s biggest and most successful restaurant chains that also arguably has the best employee benefits in the fast food and beverage sphere makes him uniquely qualified to figure out how to fix an industry plagued by low wages, sexual harassment, and general mistreatment of workers. Perhaps Schultz should look to fix the restaurant industry first — and if that succeeds, then he can take a crack at fixing America.

This story has been updated to reflect statements made by Schultz at Sunday night’s book tour event in NYC and in a Monday op-ed for USA Today.

@HowardSchultz [Twitter]
Howard Schultz’s Independent Run Could Help Trump [The Atlantic]
Howard Schultz Gets Shouted Down at Book Event [The Daily Beast]
Howard Schultz: A Third-Party Candidate Like Me Could Win in 2020 [USA Today]