Chicago Tribune: Jittery prospect for Dems: Starbucks’ Schultz for president

You likely don’t know much about Howard Schultz’s politics, but you know his accomplishment. He built Starbucks into a ubiquitous brand. Can a billionaire barista also build a national political organization and make a serious run for president as an independent candidate?

Good question. America hasn’t seen a wealthy outsider candidate from the business world become president since, um, well, two years ago. President Donald Trump’s election was a triumph of showmanship over governance expertise. Depending on who’s doing the talking, Trump’s term in office is either proud proof that anyone can grow up to be president, or dire evidence that only seasoned political figures should get the job.

Every presidential election is different, and by nature each race is a referendum on the previous four years. Perhaps Trump wins re-election. Perhaps he’s defeated by a big-name Democrat such as Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren or former Vice President Joe Biden. Perhaps the next president is none of the above.

Schultz, who told “60 Minutes” on Sunday he’s considering a run (and sounded like the answer is yes), certainly would be an off-the-menu option. He calls himself a “centrist independent” frustrated by what he sees as the ideological drift of both parties toward extremes. He aligns more Democratic than Republican but decries a liberal wish-list proposal for free health care; he says it’s unaffordable. He rightly criticizes the nation’s perilous $21 trillion debt level, supports broad immigration reform and, as a former CEO of a global company, is critical of Trump’s isolationist tendencies. “We’re much better as a country being part of the world order,” he said.

One TV interview won’t determine the viability of his candidacy, though it seems to have annoyed plenty of Democratic Party activists. They’ve done the math and determined Schultz can only be a spoiler who siphons away enough Democratic votes to give Trump a victory. Schultz’s camp retorts that he would take equally from both major parties’ candidates.

Allow us to point out gently how Democratic officials misjudged the last race; they were sure Hillary Clinton would win. It’s awfully early for them to be anticipating the outcome of the 2020 election. It promises to be a wide-open contest on the Democratic side. Whether Trump faces a primary challenge — whether he even chooses to run — isn’t yet known. The more choices for voters, the more opportunities they have to express preferences and shape the national discussion.

As for Schultz, it’s true that independent and third-party presidential candidates usually fail to get traction. Maybe he disappears quickly from view, or maybe he makes an impact on the campaign trail. As a wealthy outsider and something of a business celebrity, he’ll get media attention and ceaselessly remind all of us that he isn’t a career pol. So let’s not rule out an astonishing upset by the cappuccino kid. Remember 2016.

— Chicago Tribune