We’ve already established that a wealthy man with no political experience is capable of winning the American presidency.
Now former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz seems to think he can be the next Donald Trump.
This past weekend he told CBS’ 60 Minutes that he was seriously considering running as an independent candidate, as a self-described centrist who believes he would appeal to voters right down the middle.
The response from Democrats has been almost universally negative.
“Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire!” shouted a heckler as Schultz kicked off his nation-wide book tour.
That pretty much sums up how a lot of people feel about Schultz’s potential candidacy.
They’re worried that should he run as an independent, he will siphon off voters from the Democratic candidate, allowing Trump to be re-elected in 2020.
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On the surface, those fears might seem overblown.
Trump’s approval rating remains abysmal, and a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found a few potentially troubling signs for the President.
One third of Republican voters think the party should nominate someone other than Trump to be its candidate in 2020, even if they do approve of the job he’s doing.
But Trump also remains overwhelmingly popular among Republican voters — the ones Schultz thinks he can court.
Trump has an 88 per cent approval rating within his own party, and his overall approval rating has never really found a ceiling or a floor outside of its typical 35 to 45 per cent range.
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“Will he lose? Get real,” said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “I can’t believe after 2016 anybody is writing Trump off,” he added.
Last election, Trump was able to rely on his opponent being as unpopular as he was.
That may or may not be the case in 2020, but if the margins are close, a third-party candidate can have an impact.
Just ask former president George H.W. Bush, former vice-president Al Gore or former secretary of state Hillary Clinton how they feel about the respective likes of Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and Jill Stein.
Which brings us back to Schultz, who wrote “to suggest that either party’s candidate could lose because of a third choice is intellectually dishonest,” in an Op-Ed for USA Today.
Schultz has suggested he would attract the support of both Republicans and Democrats.
“Just insanity, insanity, after Nader and Jill Stein and others, still making this argument,” Sabato said.
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Clearly, the polls suggest Schultz wouldn’t attract many Republicans.
Donald Trump’s 88 per cent approval rating within the party has held steady since he took the oath of office two years ago. His supporters aren’t going anywhere, especially not for a centrist billionaire from Seattle.
The risk of a third-party candidate splitting the vote once weighed on the mind of another billionaire with big ambitions.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg considered an independent campaign in 2016 during the Trump-Clinton fight. Now he says he’s a Democrat, and if he runs in 2020, he says he will do so under the party banner.
“In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up reelecting the President,” said Bloomberg in a statement.
Even if there’s no way to predict how much of an impact a third-party candidate like Schultz might have on the 2020 election, President Trump seems to think it would work in his favour.
After tweeting that Schultz doesn’t have the “guts,” to run, Trump reportedly told a crowd at a fundraiser “that he was trying to get Howard Schultz into the race with his tweet earlier today because he thinks he’ll help him,” reported the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman.
“Trump will goad him,” warned Sabato, “and his ego will get completely committed.”
Jackson Proskow is Washington Bureau Chief for Global National.