A grande debate: Howard Schultz as an Independent nominee

Kristian Evans, Senior News Editor

In the coming months, Democrats will debate how to expand healthcare, address income inequality and combat climate change, and those are good debates that are worth having. Democrats will also debate as a party about the role of identity within politics with a field that as of now includes two women of color among four women total, an openly gay candidate and a Latinx candidate. To me, all of those discussions are good for the party and ultimately good for the country.

Enter Howard Schultz. Billionaire, former CEO of Starbucks, who, on Jan. 28, announced that he was “seriously considering running for president” as a centrist independent. The history of third-party candidates is filled with cautionary tales; Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party propelled Democrat Woodrow Wilson over Taft by splitting the Republican vote, Ross Perot is accused of playing spoiler to George H.W. Bush in 1992 and recent memory has made names like Ralph Nader and Jill Stein infamous in swing states.

The merits of a two-party system will always be debated in this country, but at a time when a party is about to engage in a conversation about the identity and the future of progressive policy, why should a billionaire sit out and claim that both sides have lost their way? Even Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire investor and former mayor of New York, noted the likely outcome of such a strategy via a press release published on Bloomberg.com. “In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up re-electing the President. That’s a risk I refused to run in 2016, and we can’t afford to run it now.”

There is no way to know what the outcome would be, but there is a case that perhaps Schultz siphons off moderate Republicans who have fallen out of love with President Trump’s consistent absurdity. But I believe this discussion should go beyond who ends up losing or gaining more votes; it comes down to shaping a debate. To assert that the Democratic party is a perfect and untouchable entity is irresponsible, and that extends to all declared and potential candidates as well. Kamala Harris will be asked about her policies as a career prosecutor as San Francisco District Attorney and as California Attorney General. Kirsten Gillibrand should be asked about her ties to Wall Street. If Joe Biden enters the race, his role in the Anita Hill hearings should not be overlooked. There is no perfect candidate, but the primary will reveal that and should force a nominee to navigate criticism and explain evolutions on certain issues.

Ultimately, if Schultz believes his ideas and policy points are best for to lead the country, why not run in a primary? Schultz has identified as a Democrat for the majority of his life, why now is he considering robbing Democratic voters the chance to hear his pitch and support him? The idea that Schultz gets to skip the line because of his wealth and sit on the sidelines claiming he is the voice of reason is not only wrong, but it fails to add constructively to the debate.

This article was originally published in the Feb. 2, 2019 issue.