Ex-Starbucks CEO Schultz talks up presidential bid, to chagrin of some Democrats

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said Sunday he was considering a bid for U.S. president as an Independent, upsetting some Democrats who believe he would hurt their party's chances of defeating Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.

Howard Schultz helped grow the coffee chain exponentially over 3 decades

Howard Schultz, shown at the Starbucks annual meeting of shareholders in Seattle in 2017, is now generating tepid, or even hostile, responses within the party as he weighs a presidential bid in 2020, despite being a reliable Democratic donor in the past. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said Sunday he was considering a bid for U.S. president as an Independent, upsetting some Democrats who believe he would hurt their party's chances of defeating Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.

"I am seriously thinking of running for president. I will run as a centrist Independent," Schultz said in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes.

Schultz, describing himself as a "lifelong Democrat," said Americans were tired of the behaviour of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

"We're living at a most fragile time. Not only the fact that this president is not qualified to be the president, but the fact that both parties are consistently not doing what's necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged every single day in revenge politics," Schultz told CBS.

The Seattle billionaire, 65, launches a tour Monday to promote his latest book, From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America. He has stops this week in New York, Tempe, Ariz., Seattle, Wash., and San Francisco — but no dates listed for the early voting states of Iowa or New Hampshire.

'Another selfish billionaire'

The critics included the Democratic chairman of Schultz's home state, another billionaire businessman who long flirted with an independent run of his own, former president Barack Obama's chief strategist, and the most powerful super PAC in Democratic politics.

The Democratic Party in Schultz's home state of Washington circulated on Twitter a photo of a Starbucks coffee cup with "Don't Do it Howard!" scribbled on the side.

"If Schultz entered the race as an independent, we would consider him a target… We would do everything we can to ensure that his candidacy is unsuccessful," said Patrick McHugh, executive director of the super PAC Priorities USA, which spent nearly $200 million in the 2016 presidential contest.

Specifically, he seized on Schultz's apparent willingness to cut entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security to narrow the federal deficit.

"The bottom line," McHugh said, "is that I don't think Americans are looking for another selfish billionaire to enter the race."

The intense pushback in the early days of the 2020 campaign reflects the passion Democrats are bringing to the race to deny Trump a second term. Rank-and-file voters and party officials alike are anxious about any hurdle that would prevent them from seizing on Trump's unpopularity.

Julian Castro, a former U.S. housing official who launched a bid for the Democratic nomination earlier this month, told CNN he was worried an Independent run by Schultz "would provide Donald Trump with his best hope of getting re-elected."

While no independent has won the presidency since George Washington, Democrats fear that Schultz would almost certainly split their vote and give Trump an easier path to re-election. Yet Democrats concede that they had few tools to dissuade Schultz from launching an independent campaign — though many were skeptical that he would actually follow through.

Worries about Democrats 'going so far to the left'

Schultz felt the passion of the anti-Trump resistance moments after he took the stage Monday evening in New York City to promote his new book.

"Don't help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire!" a protester shouted before being ejected by security.

The liberal-leaning Schultz is known for being outspoken on issues ranging from gay marriage to government gridlock. He announced in June he was stepping away from the coffee chain he built into a global powerhouse, fuelling speculation about a possible presidential run.

But his views might not mesh with the most progressive bloc of the party.

While some potential nominees, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris, have endorsed single-payer health care, heavily taxing the rich or free tuition at public colleges, Schultz has criticized some such proposals as unrealistic and instead emphasized expanding the economy and curbing entitlements to get the national debt under control.

"It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left," Schultz told CNBC last June. "I ask myself, 'How are we going to pay for all these things?' in terms of things like single-payer or people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job. I don't think that's realistic."

He had been a near-constant presence at Starbucks for nearly four decades and crafted the company's inclusive culture.

Asked why he was thinking about running as an Independent, Schultz said over 40 per cent of the U.S. electorate identifies as Independent.

"We'll be fully resourced to do what is necessary" to run for president, he said.

Schultz, who introduced many Americans to upscale lattes and other espresso drinks, took the Seattle-based Starbucks from 11 cafés in the mid-1980s to more than 28,000 in 77 countries, and produced big returns for many investors.

The Democratic National Committee declined to address Schultz directly. Spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa offered only this response: "We are focused on defeating Donald Trump, and anyone who shares that goal should vote for the Democrat nominee in 2020."

With files from The Associated Press


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