On Sunday, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that he may run as an independent in 2020, a move that was derided on the left as a politically clueless maneuver that could split the vote of billionaire-affectionate centrists away from Democrats and place Trump in the White House for another term. Apparently, the president is on the same page.
At a fundraiser at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. on Monday night, the president reportedly told the crowd that he was trying to coax Schultz into the 2020 race with a tweet from earlier in the day. (Trump’s message was that “Schultz doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to run for President … I only hope that Starbucks is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower,” a jab that portends the kind of fun, democratic-norm-observing election that’s coming our way.) Trump reportedly said to the crowd that Schultz’s presence in the race would help his reelection prospects.
The president’s tasteful you-rent-in-the-building-I-own joke was hardly the meanest comment pointed toward Schultz on Monday. At his own event at a Barnes & Noble in Union Square, Schultz was reportedly interrupted by a heckler, whose comments were as cutting as they were succinct: “Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire asshole,” he yelled. Before security wrangled him out of the room, he managed to get in an extremely online dig, telling Schultz to “go back to getting ratioed on Twitter,” referring to his remarkable streak of more comments than likes on four tweets in a row on Sunday.
At the event — a book-hawking at which attendees received free Grande drinks and a contact card embossed with the telling platitude, “Not every business decision is an economic one” — Schultz was asked if there was anything Democrats could do to convince him not to run. He replied with a firm, “No.” Schultz did go into detail in a few comments that implied potential policy stances, like, “We can’t continue to add onto the debt.” Or that inequality must be addressed, “but not in a punitive way,” two sound bites that suggest a type of centrist fiscal understanding that would preclude any attempt at Medicare for All or tax reform on the wealthy — common talking points among early runners for the Democratic nomination. Referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed 70 percent tax rate on income above $10 million, Schultz reportedly said, “I don’t think their views represent the majority of Americans … I don’t think we want a 70 percent income tax in America,” a statement that ignores the Carter-era taxation of incomes above $216,000 at a 70 percent rate, and a recent poll in which a majority backed such a levy on individuals making $10 million a year.
Still, Schultz seems to be preparing for a real endeavor. On Monday, it emerged that he hired Steve Schmidt — a never-Trump Republican who was a strategist on George Bush’s reelection campaign and John McCain’s second failed bid — as well as Democratic consultant Bill Burton, who helped run Obama’s campaign in 2008. It’s the kind of right-down-the-aisle, marquee-name hiring that means, despite all the jokes hurled his way, Howard Schultz is serious.