Free Minds & Free Markets

Howard Schultz’s Prospects: Ballot Access Promising, Other Fundamentals Not So Much

The Starbucks magnate is rich and early enough to buy his way onto ballots, but it's hard for a relative unknown to beat the third-party boomerang effect in a time of centrism-hating polarization.

||| MSNBCMSNBCSix weeks ago, I wrote in this space about "The Fantasy of a 2020 Independent Centrist," arguing that a "polarized electorate's sharp disdain for squishy centrists," combined with the "bureaucratic roadblocks erected by the Democratic and Republican parties," would significantly ramp up the degree of difficulty for any pox-on-both-houses run.

So now that we have our first major volunteer for the job, how does that analysis apply?

Certainly the hostility toward squishy centrist Howard Schultz, who twice served as CEO of Starbucks, almost immediately reached firehose-level intensity, as Elizabeth Nolan Brown and Nick Gillespie have documented. The high-turnout, Trump-centric 2018 midterms were brutal enough for non-major-party candidates, and the president's name wasn't on any ballots. If someone with as much local name recognition and relevant job experience as former Gov. Gary Johnson in New Mexico can barely get half the vote of a no-name Republican in a presidential off-year, what chance does a no-name independent amateur have when the anti-Trump electorate will be more motivated than Fantastic Mr. Fox at a pancake breakfast?

It's actually on the structural-impediments side that things start to look up for Schultz. "Ballot access for such a ticket is not nearly as bad a problem as it has been in the past," Ballot Access News editor Richard Winger told me last month. "Since the 2016 election, ballot access for president in the two worst states, North Carolina and Oklahoma, has become much easier. And in 2016 it became much easier in Georgia." Ongoing litigation could also improve the rules in Texas, Florida, and California.

Sure, states run by Democrats may try to erect new obstacles over the coming months, but such shenanigans could face the kind of pushback not seen for more than two decades—a highly motivated billionaire willing to throw his own money at the problem.

"Running for president should not be undertaken without intense preparation," Schultz wrote in yesterday's USA Today, sounding like someone who has been doing just that. "I promise that I will not seek the presidency unless I believe it is possible to win, and for me to govern well. Should I run, I will be on the ballot in all 50 states."

According to the Washington Post, the former Starbucks CEO has indeed been laying the groundwork prior to his 60 Minutes splash, and has expressed willingness "to spend $300 million to $500 million of his own wealth" on the effort. "Before announcing his presidential ambitions this week," the Post reported, "Schultz secretly undertook a months-long effort to prepare an independent presidential campaign against the nation's two-party political system, deploying more than six national polls and laying the groundwork for paid advertising that could debut in the next two months."

One other advantage Schultz has besides money, is time—he's at least one full year ahead of where quadrennial trial ballooner (and 2019 Schultz-baiter) Michael Bloomberg was in 2016, and miles ahead of the stillborn June 2016 candidacy of David French, or the August 2016 Evan McMullin scramble that resulted in the #NeverTrump candidate getting on just 11 state ballots.

So that, plus the wide open fiscal/economic space between Trumpism and the left-lurching Democratic Party, comprises the good news for Schultz. The bad news? Just about everything else.

Donald Trump may have illustrated that past patterns do not determine contemporary presidential success, but that doesn't make history irrelevant. And when you look at independent/third-party runs from days of yore, as well as the depressing realities of contemporary politics, Schultz 2020 comes up against at least four major impediments.

||| Dallas NewsDallas News1) Name recognition. Since the end of World War II, independent and third-party candidates for president have received more than 2 percent of the popular vote eight times. All were considerably more famous than Howard Schultz.

Ross Perot (18.9 percent in 1992, 8.4 percent in 1996) was trebly famous by the time he got into politics—for starting a wildly successful data processing business, organizing the dramatic hostage-rescue operation of his employees in revolutionary Iran, and being the most influential private-sector activist for American POWs and M.I.A.s in Vietnam. George Wallace (13.53 percent, 1968) was arguably the most infamous segregationist governor in the South during the civil rights era. Like Wallace, Strom Thurmond (2.41 percent, 1948) was the face of states' rights opposition to desegregation, and had already been a governor, circuit court judge, state senator, and war hero before running for president. Gary Johnson (3.28 percent, 2016) was a two-time governor and second-time presidential candidate. Ralph Nader (2.74 percent, 2000) was and is the single most famous consumer advocate in the country. And Henry Wallace (2.37 percent, 1948) had been vice president three years before.

The one comparatively successful third-party candidate who comes anywhere near Schultz's anonymity is John Anderson (6.61 percent, 1980). But Anderson was a 10-term congressman, the third-ranked Republican in the House, and a headline-generating apostate on Watergate, Vietnam, and the Equal Rights Amendment, and he had just finished third in the GOP presidential primaries.

||| LifeLife2) The third-party boomerang effect. Close elections, like the one we had in 2016, tend to scare voters away from third-party and independent candidates the next time around. The 2000 election saw 3.75 percent of voters select non-major candidates; in 2004 that number collapsed to an even 1 percent. The 1968 Richard Nixon popular-vote squeaker over Hubert Humphrey included 13.86 percent going rogue; in 1972 that plummeted to 1.81 percent. Even 1960's miniscule third-party percentage of 0.33 nearly halved in 1964, to 0.18.

The 2016 third-party/independent haul was 5.73 percent, the highest in two decades.

Not only do hotly contested elections bring voters back home to major parties, but spike years in third-party voting tend to be followed by nosedives. The Strom Thurmond/Henry Wallace election of 1948 (5.38 percent for non-majors overall) was followed by 1952's 0.5 percent. The John Anderson–led 8.14 percent in 1980 dwindled to 0.71 percent in 1984. The Perotist peak of 19.52 percent in 1992 was nearly halved in 1996 with the feisty Texas still on the ballot: 10.04 percent.

3) The centrist sinkhole. Schultz is selling himself as a sensible centrist, above the distasteful fray of polarized Washington. Ask Jeff Flake how popular that is.

Or even Bill Weld. The 2016 Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee and possible 2020 presidential contender now repudiates his centrist, very Schultz-sounding marketing pitch of three years ago with Gary Johnson. "'Well, you know, we're socially welcoming and we're fiscally responsible, and one of the other two parties is not socially welcoming and the other one is not fiscally responsible, so we've got a six-lane highway right up the middle!'" Weld recalled last October. "I think that might have been a fundamental error....I'm suggesting that we should never say, 'You have to vote for us because we're in the middle.'"

4) Fiscal freebasing. There is no demonstrable electoral constraint on major-party presidential candidates campaigning as if budgetary numbers ever have to add up. Donald Trump laughed that rhetorical tradition right out of the national GOP, and all the juice on the Democratic side is coming from Team Bernie.

Howard Schultz—just like whoever the Libertarian nominee will be—is bucking that trend, and I for one wish all of them success in reanimating the corpse of fiscal responsibility in our national politics. But we've come so far from the debt-limit/budget-sequestration days of 2011–2013, let alone the "net spending cut" and entitlement reform promised by incoming president Barack Obama 10 years ago, that even imagining a successful politics based on fiscal sanity requires effort.

Which makes one tidbit buried in the Washington Post article all the more interesting: Schultz's internal polls reportedly show him doing best when pitted against a more progressive Democrat, rather than, say, Joe Biden. I suspect the single biggest role Schultz may play in this election is not on his own candidacy, but on how Democratic voters—so desperate to find someone who can smite down Trump—select their own nominee.

Photo Credit: MSNBC

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    I can't wait for Matt Welch and Reason to cover Trump's positives, since there is this need to cover 2020 Presidential candidates 2 years ahead of time.

  • SIV||

    "The libertarian case for Kamala Harris"

    I nominate McSuderman to write it.

  • John||

    Suderman has already wrote it. He wouldn't want Welch or Dalmia to beat him to it. There are few greater honors you can get at Reason than being asked to write the Libertarian case for the Democratic nominee. They all want it and want it bad.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    SIV hates Kamala Harris, because she doesn't resemble any particular chicken breed, and that's not to be trusted.

    Unlike, for example, Bernie Sanders (Polish chicken), Mitch McConnell (Faverolles), Nancy Pelosi (Naked Neck), or Donald Trump (Houdan).

  • Just Say'n||

    What about Tulsi? She's a hot chick

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    "The libertarian case for Kamala Harris"

    I've been making this case for months.

    1. Like almost every Democrat, she'd be substantially better than Drumpf on the most important issue for us Koch / Reason libertarians — immigration.

    2. She is passionate about defending access to abortion care, as demonstrated by her fantastic performance in the Kavanaugh hearings.

    Just based on that she's much more libertarian than some of the people who comment here.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    Do you support elimination of private health insurance, OBL?

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    No. And I don't support raising the minimum wage. Or raising taxes on billionaires.

    But these are minor issues. I can disagree with politicians on minor issues and still vote for them. Whereas immigration and abortion are fundamental, non-negotiable issues. Any politician who campaigns on restricting those will never get my vote.

  • CE||

    She warns voters who investigate her background that power craving politicians will do anything to get ahead and hence should not be trusted?

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    There is a libertarian case to be made for any candidate. Yes, even Trump. Yes, even Kamala Harris or Bernie Sanders. Because *none* of the candidates are completely orthogonal to the libertarian position on *all* of the issues of interest to libertarians.

    It just boils down to which issues one prioritizes, and of those, which issues candidates are more faithfully libertarian.

  • moneyshot||

    Howard Schultz—just like whover the Libertarian nominee will be—is bucking that trend, and I for one wish all of them success in reanimating the corpse of fiscal responsibility in our national politics. But we've come so far from the debt-limit/budget-sequestration days of 2011-2013, let alone the "net spending cut" and entitlement reform promised by incoming president Barack Obama 10 years ago, that even imagining a successful politics based on fiscal sanity requires effort.

    It is too bad that there is no room for "fiscal sanity" in the two major parties.

  • John||

    Someone on the internet pointed out the other day that of all the predictions about 2019, Democrats boycotting Starbucks would have been the most unbelievable one. And yet, here we are.

  • Jerry B.||

    Kind'a wonder why they haven't started a movement to buy Citgo gas to support Maduro.

  • Libertarian||

    An even crazier prediction would have been that the leading Democrat was in favor of repeal and replace for Obamacare, but with Harris's Medicare For All plan, here we are.

  • SIV||

    Schultz's internal polls reportedly show him doing best when pitted against a more progressive Democrat, rather than, say, Joe Biden.

    Schultz has money to burn because you don't need polls to tell you that. I'm sure he has fantasies of actually winning and the Dems would have to actually split for that to happen (assuming Trump runs in 2020).

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If he wins, will I have to buy something to use the White House restroom?

  • Rich||

    Not really. It'll be considered a tax.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Not if you're black.

  • Benitacanova||

    And will there be a handy hypo needle disposal box?

  • Mickey Rat||

    On #3, that may because the fiscally conservative, socially progressive quadrant may be a deserted wasteland devoid of actual voters. You cannot win if you don't appeal to many who would fill out ballot.

  • CE||

    Not really. A lot of them are voting for Democrats, to signal they're not intolerant. But they want a fiscally responsible president (and without much higher taxes.) I know lots of voters like that.

  • creech||

    After all the deep red state and deep blue state electoral votes are added up (where party stalwarts will vote for a yellow dog if it comes to that) how many electoral votes are actually in play for a successful independent to win? If it's less than 270, what are the chances the House would vote the independent into the presidency instead of the bloke from the majority House party?

  • John||

    Virtually none. Even if this guy is really successful and say gets 35% of the national vote. I think all that would do would be to split the Democratic vote and make Trump competetive in a lot of states that are ordinarily solidly Democrat. Even the most Democratic states are usually around 40% Republican. If Shultz took 30% of the national vote and say 20% of it was Democrat, every state no matter how blue would be competetive and every purple and red state would be a Trump blowout.

  • DenverJ||

    You know who else didn't have enough votes but got appointed anyway?

  • JFree||

    There actually are no deep red or deep blue states. The largest single group among the voting age population in every state is people who didn't vote but are eligible to vote. Unfortunately, most of them are also not registered to vote either. Unless of course Starbucks gets into registering people to vote - and to turn off the TV/media poison and talk about such things with their neighbors. Good golly Schultz has a hell of a lot better opportunity than you might think - and its good business too.

    If someone actually convinced them to register - and vote for them, they would win almost everywhere. No one will ever convince registered voters who already vote to vote differently than they already do.

    The only states with voter turnout greater than 65% (where one of the DeRps would likely win even if that 65% is split evenly cuz there just aren't enough non-voters) are CO, IA, ME, MD, MA, MN, NH, OR, VA, and WI. So MD/MA/MN/OR/VA go Dem, IA goes Rep, CO/ME/NH/WI go some flavor of DeRp, and everyone else goes for the choice of your favorite barista.

  • esteve7||

    A much better alternative than Gary Johnson and his sniveling leftist VP

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    You would prefer a sniveling right-winger?

  • John||

    It is always nice for you to show up and remind everyone just how stupid the typical backwoods Progressive really is.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    John, progtard bitches gotta be progtard bitches. It's just their way. It's just a shame his mother wasn't progtarded enough to control her own body enough and kill him on the way out of,the birth canal,

  • Just Say'n||

    Schultz is not a "right winger"

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Haha, you got him.

  • Ray McKigney||


  • Calidissident||

    One of the reactions to Schultz that I've seen from some media people has been interesting. I understand why Democratic partisans are wary of a third party run by someone who could/would peel more votes from their side. But I've seen multiple people make an argument that's best captured by this Matt Yglesias tweet:

    "The goal is something like a billionaire's veto on elections, where if Democrats dare challenge plutocracy too fundamentally they'll be blocked by a self-funded spoiler."

    What's baffling about this argument is that if a billionaire can play spoiler to a party that's supposedly challenging plutocracy too much, then maybe that party's "anti-plutocratic" agenda actually isn't that popular? If you're conceding that a centrist billionaire like Schultz could play spoiler to stop a progressive challenge to plutocracy (in your framing), then you're conceding that the Democratic Party winning elections is dependent on voters who are not on board with a far reaching progressive agenda that fundamentally challenges plutocracy. This argument seems like a total self-own.

  • John||

    It is a total self own. The only way it is not is if you think, as I am sure Yglesias does, that voters will be fooled into voting for Shultz and not realize that they are defeating the agenda they support by doing so.

    I would love to know what the "Progressive Challange to the Putocracy" is supposed to be. Shultze and Donald Trump might be the only billionaires in America who are not on board with the Progressive cause. Just who is this "plutocracy" running the company and how does it not include the silicon valley barons who comprise nearly all of the richest and most powerful people in America and are uniformly on board with the Progressive cause.

  • Calidissident||

    A lot of people on the left hate the Silicon Valley/tech people and think they (and other Dem-leaning billionaires, who tend to be on the more centrist side of the party) are preventing the Dem party establishment from embracing a truly progressive agenda.

  • perlchpr||

    "Putocracy". Heh. I know it's a typo, but if you squint, it almost looks like "rule by prostitutes" Which is just entirely too accurate. :D

  • Zeb||

    I believe the proper Greek would be "pornocracy".

  • CE||

    And somehow the greedy socialists who want to take peoples' money paint the accomplished billionaires (who mostly earned their fortunes honestly) as the greedy ones.

  • Just Say'n||

    Welch needs to get off Jeff Flake's nuts. The guy was garbage. If it's "centrism" to speak out against the president for offensive remarks while voting to reauthorize warrantless wiretapping; getting upset about his unilateral withdrawal from Syria, and then proposing a carbon tax then there's a reason why "centrism" is unpopular: it's the worst of both worlds

  • John||

    You have to remember Welch isn't a Libertarian and supports all of that sans maybe withdrawing from Syria.

  • DenverJ||

    That's not fair; he also makes a fine jam.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

  • Zeb||

    Welch is for warrantless wiretapping?

  • Zeb||

    That kind of centrism is very conservative in a way. Don't rock the boat. Unfortunately it also applies to the defense and intelligence and law enforcement establishment.

  • SIV||

  • SIV||

    Alleged observed one buy by a C.I.
    Brown powder from a 55 y/o white man with a 9mm semi-auto.

  • John||

    A confidential informant says he bought heroin and saw a gun. That was then the basis for a no knock raid. Sadly, that is legal. And that is the worst part of the whole thing.

  • SIV||

    And they found no drugs or weapons as described in the warrant

  • CE||

    Police version: violent drug dealers try to kill cops, end up dead.

    Alternate version: undocument pharmaceutical entrepreneurs conducting business peacefully have gang of armed men break down their door and shoot their dog. They shoot back and end up dead.

  • Eddy||

    Did they at least get the address right?

  • Ray McKigney||

    What is Reason's position on destroying a fetus after its born?

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    Even better question:

    Does this tumor have rights?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Hank Phillips jizzes all over himself at the idea.

  • librich||

    I'm not sure I care how likely it is that he'll win, Matt. I voted for Gary Johnson.
    Schultz would make a better prez than any Demo or Republican for one simple reason: he's sane.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    On this score I would have to agree.
    Imagine a candidate who actually takes cost into consideration!

  • Derp-o-Matic 6000||

    He gave an unequivocal, full-throated condemnation of socialism, which already puts him leagues ahead of any Democrat currently running.

  • Eddy||

    Well, he uses the d word - debt - and admits we have a problem. They say that's the first step. But unless he gets a significant bloc of votes after running on that issue, nobody will even have to pretend to care.

    At least, not until the economic effects start to be felt.

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  • CE||

    Is this one of those Internet jobs they were advertising here earlier? Did you buy that used Fiat yet, or was that some other outfit?

  • CE||

    I love how billionaires assume 50-state ballot access makes them legitimate candidates. LP candidates with 50 (or 49 or 48) state ballot access know better.

    Still, anyone on enough ballots to win should be taken seriously. No one has cast any votes yet (except maybe in Chicago and a few precincts in Nevada). With the "Libertarian" warning label, an independent candidate with TV access, gravitas and charisma could easily win. Ross Perot could have won if he had been slightly more stable.

  • fafalone||

    It really doesn't matter what this billionaire assclown does; his only significance would be giving the Dems someone to scapegoat for their inevitable loss. They seem committed to what I've been worried about for over a year-- no matter what, the nominee MUST be a woman. It doesn't matter one bit that every woman on the shortlist has turnout-killing liabilities for the silent but significant crowd of liberals that aren't obsessed with identity politics and all the ways white men are the devil, they're once against so supremely confident Darth Cheeto is so unelectable they can go right on ahead with alienating people.
    People like me, who votes (D) because civil rights matter more to me than corporate freedom (and the left being substantially better on those outside of a few narrow areas like guns, enabling religion-excused bigotry, and sex crime due process).

    They're going to bask in their intersectional orgasm as Harris takes the nomination, then wind up crying and screaming as they scramble for something external to blame for why that orange buffoon is getting 4 more years and almost certainly another SC pick. Those god damn racist and sexist white men didn't vote for us?? But Why?!?!!?!? Get over your racism and sexism, realize you're evil, and get with the program already!

  • Nardz||

    Totalitarianism is so much better for civil rights...

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  • Knutsack||

    Is that their poker table names?

    What's Schultz's table name?

  • girleeee||

    He should just run as a Democrat. Given that plurality wins, he may only have to capture 20smthng% in the primaries.

  • Libertarian||

    " . . .but it's hard for a relative unknown to beat the third-party boomerang effect in a time of centrism-hating polarization."

    So we'll never see a libertarian in the White House. If the voters are polarized, centrist-haters, then they go to their respective corners and vote with their bases. And in a time of non-polarized, centrist-lovers, any real libertarian is going to be on the un-electable fringe.


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