Could Howard Schultz be 2020’s Ralph Nader?
Though not officially in the presidential race yet, on January 27, former Starbucks CEO and billionaire Howard Schultz announced that he would be exploring the possibility of running for president in the 2020 election. While it is unlikely that Schultz, who is running as an independent, will win the presidential election, by taking a centrist role in the race, his presence could expose weaknesses in the current left-leaning lineup of presidential hopefuls aiming to become the Democratic presidential nominee.
One of the biggest issues the Democrats face on the road to the U.S. 2020 presidential election is the lack of ideological diversity among Democrats who have announced White House bids. The policy platforms of many that have officially announced presidential bids, including Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren, capture the party’s leftward shift. Incredibly, all of the aforementioned candidates have adopted policies touted by Bernie Sanders during his 2016 primary run, including support for universal healthcare, free college tuition, and job guarantee programs.
This development demonstrates how democratic socialism has taken the Democrat Party by storm as Sanders was, for the most part, the lone advocate for these policies during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries. This ideological shift in the Democrat Party could potentially alienate moderate voters, posing a major strategic problem in terms of casting a wide net for attracting voters in 2020. A Gallup poll released in December indicated that 54 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents say that they would prefer a “more moderate” Democratic Party. Consequently, the current lack of a moderate candidate among the Democrats running for president may create an opportunity for a more moderate, third-party candidate to play the role of an election spoiler. The most likely candidate for attracting moderate voters thus far would be Howard Schultz: an independent and self-described centrist.
What does Schultz bring to the table? A lifelong Democrat, self-described fiscal conservative, and social liberal, Schultz has attacked Elizabeth Warren by calling her a “socialist,” and is currently endorsing a number of policy positions contrary to those running for the Democratic nomination. This include opposition towards both Medicare for all and increased marginal tax rate for Americans whose annual income exceeds $10 million. In addition, Schultz has emphasized the need to address the national debt, and positioned himself as a vocal critic of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall while also supporting LGBTQ rights. As a result, Schultz is putting himself in an excellent position to attract the typical moderate Democrat voter that may not have felt comfortable voting for Sanders in 2016.
Adding credence to the possibility that Schultz’s candidacy could play a significant role in the 2020 election is the fact that, in the past, independents have successfully induced the spoiler effect by splitting votes between candidates. For example, while only nabbing 2.74 percent of the popular vote, Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 Presidential election because a majority of the 97,421 Floridian voters who allegedly considered Al Gore their second choice cast votes for Nader instead. As a result, Gore lost the state of Florida to George W. Bush by a mere 574 votes.
Furthermore, in a development that perhaps draws more similarity to the current dynamics of the 2020 election, in 1992 fellow billionaire Ross Perot ran an effective campaign in 1992 as an independent, winning 18.9 percent of the popular vote. Interestingly, Perot drew support mainly from self-described moderates. According to the previously mentioned Gallup poll, voters that traditionally support the Democrats appear to account for the majority of moderates going into the 2020 election. The majority of Democrat-leaning voters appear to want their party to be more moderate, while in contrast, 57 percent of Republican-leaning voters believe their party should become more conservative. As a result, it seems that a moderate like Schultz may find more success drawing away Democrat voters rather than Republicans. This would greatly impact the performance of any Democrat candidate in the 2020 election and could potentially increase the likelihood of a Trump victory.
Of course this doesn’t necessarily guarantee a Trump victory in the 2020 election. A number of prominent Democrats including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Governor of California Jerry Brown have been critical of the lack of moderate candidates currently running the in presidential race. Moving forward, perhaps more moderate candidates will emerge in the Democratic presidential primaries. A more moderate presidential candidate for the Democrats could be the simple solution the Democrats need in order to mitigate the possible threat Howard Schultz poses to the party if he decides to make his presidential bid official.