The Washington Examiner today has a piece headlined "Why Howard Schultz could go Libertarian," in which officials from America's third largest political party basically wave their hands in the direction of the billionaire maybe-sorta presidential candidate and say "Over here!"
"Mr. Schultz describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, so I kindly encourage Mr. Schultz to look at our platform, as that title goes hand in hand with what the Libertarian Party stands for," Florida L.P. Chair Marcos Miralles told the Examiner. Added California L.P. Chair Mimi Robson: "He's definitely a fiscal conservative and he appears to be generally for civil liberties and individual rights—so yeah, those are all things in line with the Libertarian Party." (Robson also added some wait-and-see caveats.)
Both sides in this equation obviously have something the other covets—the Libertarian Party has probable 2020 ballot access in 50 states; Schultz has a personal fortune and the professed willingness to spend up to a half-billion dollars of it on a presidential campaign. (The 2016 L.P. ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, for comparison, raised $13 million; and the party's annual budget is just a fraction of that.)
So are there wedding bells in the future for these non-duopolists? Only if party members who barely tolerated having Bill Weld represent them as a vice presidential pick will cede the top slot to a less-experienced lifelong Democrat who is far less libertarian.
Start with foreign policy. Schultz has criticized President Donald Trump's plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Schultz adviser Steve Schmidt (the 2008 presidential campaign manager of uber-hawk John McCain, and before that an adviser to Dick Cheney) explained on the WordsMatter podcast last week that Schultz "thought that Trump's decision announcing the decision precipitously was a mistake," adding: "I think if you go back to his speech at the Atlantic Council, what he talked about was the importance of alliances, the connection within that alliance of free peoples, the idea that America is the indispensable nation in the world that if the U.S. steps back that vacuum will be filled with actors that are not benevolent, not benign, so I think he stayed in that speech well within the boundaries of what we would recognize as a foreign policy that James Baker would be deeply comfortable with."
Good luck selling that foreign policy vision to the Libertarian National Convention in 2020. Bill Weld, on the other hand, was saying as recently as four months ago stuff like, "I don't understand why there are troops in Afghanistan. I'm not sure I understand why all those troops are there in Korea."
The Second Amendment, too, could prove an obstacle to Schultz-L.P. coupling. Whereas Weld is still (inaccurately, in my view) tarred as a "gun-grabber" (despite arguing repeatedly that "anyone who says, 'We have to do something about gun ownership, including AR-15s,' is just going to be dead meat, because their position doesn't make any sense"), Schultz just goes right there: "Seventy percent of the American people want the kind of policy legislation that takes the guns of war out of the American peoples' neighborhoods."
As Libertarian National Chair Nicholas Sarwark diplomatically tells the Examiner, "Schultz seems to hold some libertarian positions on issues like marriage equality and reducing the national debt….On the other side, his position on gun control would probably be very unpopular with libertarians."
Schultz, unlike most Libertarians, thinks the Affordable Care Act "was the right thing to do." He called the Trump/Republican corporate tax cuts "wrong and irrational." The trial balloon phase is still only now taking flight—he'll be doing a CNN town hall tonight—but Schultz is already a significant distance away from the L.P. before fielding many questions about drug policy, or corporate welfare, or the Federal Reserve.
There is one key factor that makes such speculation mostly academic at this point: the calendar. Even though presidential campaign season is well upon us, Libertarians choose their nominee 15 months from now. Like Weld playing footsie with a GOP primary challenge to Donald Trump, Schultz has every material reason at the moment to stay indy—it maximizes Democratic nervousness, and therefore media attention. No Libertarian will be included in polls any time soon.
Howard Schultz has ample time to see if there's really a market in these polarized, emotionally charged times for a centrist independent talking about debt. If that project fizzles on the launch pad, there's still time to bone up on the Non-Aggression Principle, though internal patience for situational Libertarians might well be wearing thin.