Howard Schultz might be king of the American coffeehouse, but he probably isn’t going to be president. The Starbucks CEO has been running as a centrist independent, touting his entrepreneurial credentials and a rags-to-riches story as proof of his presidential qualities. But after an initial burst of publicity — most of it incredulous — his campaign faded steadily from public view. On Wednesday, everyone who still remembered that Schultz is running for president received an answer about his whereabouts. In an email to all five of his supporters, Schultz announced that he’s injured his back and has put his campaign on hiatus:
But Schultz’s vacation may be owed to more than a bad back. HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel subsequently reported that Schultz fired a number of campaign staffers and told them he “would not make a decision about running for president until after Labor Day.” Schultz’s presidential ambitions now appear to hang entirely on the fortunes of one Democratic candidate: Joe Biden. “Schultz said that if Biden does not appear to be the nominee, he would think about jumping into the presidential race after Super Tuesday,” Terkel continued. Which sounds like a threat. If voters don’t line up behind Biden, another moderate white man, Schultz will jump back in, a privilege afforded him by his massive personal fortune.
Schultz’s campaign was always a political oddity, and not just because he’s a political newcomer who’s said little about how he intends to govern. The most Schultz could offer is a thinly sketched commitment to pragmatism. “I’m concerned about one thing: doing everything I can to help families who have been left behind, and to restore dignity and honor back in the Oval Office,” he told Axios in January, a statement that could justify nearly any policy his heart desires. He also faces stiff competition in his quest to win moderate votes. Biden’s position as the early front-runner likely informs Schultz’s deference to him. But there are now a number of centrist white men in the Democratic primary race, and their proliferation threatens the viability of Schultz’s independent candidacy. He would have to compete not only with Biden but with candidates like Tim Ryan, Seth Moulton, and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who responded to Senator Bernie Sanders’s landmark speech on democratic socialism by defending his state’s “pragmatic approach” to change. Even if American voters truly longed for a political third way — and it’s not at all obvious that they do — why pick Schultz over a Democrat? Schultz’s back may indeed be injured. But as suffering goes, his ordeal is conveniently timed.