You think the rich know how to live, and then you’re confronted with Howard Schultz.
Instead of climbing Mount Everest or eating endangered songbirds or whatever billionaires are into these days, the former Starbucks CEO decided to very publicly consider running for president.
So now, instead of shooting sports cars into space, Schultz spends his time giving confusing television interviews — and getting roasted like Arabica by people convinced he will siphon votes away from any Democratic challenger to President Trump.
Frankly, that barely counts as heckling. Schultz has somehow carved out a uniquely unpopular niche in 2019 American politics: a blend of vague platitudes about unity and entitlement-slashing budget hawkery that’s even to the right of Trump’s demonstrated priorities.
Because Trump remains overwhelmingly popular with Republicans, Schultz can count on the votes of Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and like three dudes who used to work at the Weekly Standard, probably. But he could very likely harvest enough votes of well-to-do but socially liberal would-be Democratic voters to tank whichever progressive candidate the party nominates.
Beyond that? Well, the lifelong Democrat’s chances of actually becoming president are about as good as yours or mine.
“What I learned is that without structural reform, third-party or independent candidacies are a dead end,” said Evan Falchuk, who ran a third-party campaign for governor of Massachusetts in 2014.
“The problem that we have.” he said, “is that voters say in large numbers that they want an independent candidate, but when you start to do the work, they worry that you’ll be a spoiler.”
And yet, suddenly, Schultz is everywhere. Welcome to billionaire privilege, with which your every dubious utterance is dutifully transcribed and taken seriously, despite zero evidence of actual seriousness. He’s approximately as qualified to be president as the Boston-area coffee maven George Howell, though at least President Howell’s coffee beans would be properly roasted.
“He shouldn’t run if what he’s worried about is Trump,” said Falchuk, who left the United Independent Party, which he had built, and enrolled as a Democrat in 2017.
Philosophically, Schultz seems to be stuck back where Falchuk was in 2014.
“To become better, we must repair our broken two-party system. To those who say a third choice can’t succeed, I say that’s as un-American as you can get,” Schultz, who has some peculiar ideas about what is and isn’t American, tweeted Tuesday.
But if he really wanted to make third-party and independent presidential bids viable instead of ruinous, he’d do what Falchuk is doing: pushing for ranked-choice voting. That system, which would allow voters to choose candidates in order of preference, would allow people like Schultz to burn through their fortunes on vanity campaigns without Nadering the vote.
Such a dramatic shift in how we vote might sound unlikely, even if Maine is already trying it out. But if billionaires like Schultz and Mike Bloomberg threw their weight and wallets behind it? It could probably happen pretty quickly.
Just look at how much attention Schultz’s dead-end not-even-a-candidacy has garnered.
You thought Starbucks was omnipresent until this [affogato] seemed to be somehow giving simultaneous live interviews on every news network.
He has no name recognition and no recognizable constituency and has espoused no particular ideas beyond unity and the protection of his own fortune.
In an America where ideas like 70 percent marginal tax rates on income above $10 million and wealth taxes on people like Schultz poll quite well, his ideas represent a bizarre misreading of the appetite for another borderline robber-baron as president.
Trump’s campaign met a dispiriting demand for hard-line immigration policy, white nationalism, and economic populism.
Now here comes $5 latte guy pushing a pro-business, save-the-billionaires platform that has been, shall we say, well-represented in American politics over the last several decades. Schultz rolled out his “Let them eat coffeecake” pitch at precisely the wrong moment.
But by virtue of being extremely rich, Schultz has managed to draw the kind of attention even he couldn’t buy — even though he can’t actually win. Whether he realizes he can’t win is an open question. Maybe he doesn’t care.
The consequences of Trump winning reelection, for a guy like Schultz, aren’t half bad if the alternative is Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. He gets to keep more of his money, and the fallout from another one or two Supreme Court appointments and ferocious immigration crackdowns will barely be audible up in the penthouse.
That immunity from consequence is a kind of privilege, too. Maybe the rich do know how to live.