I'll Take That to Go
Late yesterday afternoon, I read the following tweet --
My first reaction was -- well that's egomaniacal of you. Thanks so much for telling us.
My second reaction was that, unless you think the fact is is question, "I love our country" is not really something one should have to say when announcing their candidacy for president of the United States. I know all candidates pretty much do say it (though not usually as their first qualifying point), but honestly I suspect that 325 million Americans love their country, too, so it's not all that exclusive a club or major selling point. What would be notable is if you didn't love your country and were running for president. And I can only think of one person in the history of the United States who tried that with a major party. And even he told people how much he supposedly loved his country. And has made money selling clothing from it.
By the way, it's a good thing I read this tweet when I did, since if I'd come across it three hours earlier before I'd heard Mr. Schultz being discussed on the news, my actual first reaction to the tweet would have been -- and was at the time -- who in the world is Howard Schultz??
I now know that he's the former head of Starbucks. Swell. Herman Cain was the former head of Godfather Pizza when he ran for the Republican nomination to be president and that didn't work out well for him. Same with Carly Fiorina, although her company didn't make food products.
I am quite certain that Howard Schultz will tout his business background. The things is, as we've seen, a business background and absolutely no political experience is a really lousy foundation to be president. ("Oh, cool, I want to vote for the coffee guy. I love their macchiatos. And he's got swell ideas.") For the sake of argument, I will happily presume that he does have swell ideas. But then, I think I do, too. And I'd make a terrible president. No, I don't have his business background. But -- well, see the article I wrote during the 2016 race when I explained in great detail why having a good business background has almost nothing to do with being president of the United States.
(Very short version: Unlike being a CEO, as president you can't fire anyone in the other party who argues with you. You can't make any unilateral decision you want and know it has to be followed. Congress can override almost any decision you make. Your competition is other nations, and they all not only have separate monetary systems and operate under different laws, but very real armies and military infrastructures. Some even have actual nuclear weapons. A few of them aren't just trying to get a bigger market share than you, but wipe you off the face of the earth. For starters.)
There's been a great deal of reaction to Howard Schutz about how his potential candidacy will split the anti-Trump vote and help ensure his re-election. Honestly, I don't care much at all about Schultz splitting votes since that implies he'd get enough votes to matter. In 1992, Ross Perot ran the most-successful independent race in U.S. presidential history by far -- and he got zero electoral votes.
But let's even assume that the does get lots of votes. Perot did get 19% of the vote, but a) that's the most-ever, usually a major Independent candidate gets closer to 3%, and b) it's generally accepted that any votes he took from Bill Clinton and George Bush were pretty evenly-split. But even that, the most-successful ever, was a very different time and situation. (Among many other things, very importantly no one was running for re-election.) The concern is that Mr. Schultz would take anti-Trump votes from Democrats. There is no serious discussion of a GOP concern that he'd take anti-Democratic votes from the Republicans. (But if there was, it would mean that lost-votes would balance out, so no problem.) So, going further to the next step, it is near-impossible for me to figure that anyone who would otherwise vote Democratic and hates Trump would vote instead for the Starbucks guy, not the Democratic candidate against Trump. After all, this isn't like a well-known Democrat splitting off of the party in protest and siphoning Democratic supporters with him. This isn't even like a long-time, well-known liberal (as was Ralph Nader) pulling away his own long-time liberal supporters. So, he will not be taking away Democratic anti-Trump votes. If a Democrat hates Trump, they'll vote for the Democratic candidate. The only anti-Trump votes he'd be taking away are Republican or Independent ones from Trump. Which is the main point you want. Yes, it is possible that Mr. Schultz might take some Republican or Independent anti-Trump votes that otherwise would have gone to the Democratic candidate, rather than them voting for some other third party candidate in protest or just not voting in the presidential race. But see above -- I just don't see many people voting for Howard Schultz. Even in a "This is politics, the election is so far off, anything could happen" world. In fact, in that same "anything can happen" world, I would suggest it's more likely that Howard Schultz may not get on the ballot in most states, or even still be in the race in 2020.
Yes, I know, politics is strange, and anything can absolutely happen. After all, look at what happened with Trump. Well...yes, very true and one doesn't want that risk, but then Trump was a national figure on TV for almost a decade. And he ran as the official nominee of the Republican Party, with all the massive logistical and political support that derives, not with a third party. But yes, it could hurt Democrats. I just don't think it will. I think one's time, energy and angst is far better used in electing a strong Democratic candidate, rather than worrying about a third-party businessman most people have never heard of. I think if anything it would hurt Trump more, giving an option to Republicans who don't want to vote for Trump but can never vote for a Democrat. But I don't even think that would happen to any significant degree. Because in the end, it's Howard "Who is He? Oh, could I have whipped cream on my mocha latte" Schultz. And Republicans (and all Americans) have been badly burned by a businessman with zero political experience.
But there is something that bothers me about his possible candidacy.
Last week, first-term South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg announced he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination to be president. He was asked in an interview if it might not be better for him, a bright, up-and-coming politician in the Democratic Party, to perhaps run for other offices first -- Congress, governor, senate -- to gain some experience and visibility. His response was basically that we've seen conditions have changed and that such things aren't requirements anymore.
Well...what we've also seen is that when we elect people to the presidency without much experience in politics and no experience in statewide politics nor any in national politics, the results can be disastrous. And as we've also seen, this is President of the United States, and it really matters. A lot.
Not long ago, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook dropped hints he was thinking of perhaps running for president, based on...oh, who knows what? But that clearly didn't work out, which happily we learned early enough this time.
What erroneous lesson too many have unfortunately taken from Trump is that experience and qualifications don't matter to be elected President of the United States. But that is the very wrong and indeed opposite lesson to learn. The fact that Trump -- for unique reasons -- was able to get elected president under extraordinary conditions that would be deeply-challenging, if not hopefully profoundly unlikely to be repeated is one thing (requiring, among other things, the ability and willingness of a highly-visible national celebrity to engage in sociopathic behavior and pathological lying with the conspiratorial assistance of a foreign adversary, while doing so against the first-ever female candidate of a major party who had been demonized for decades), while it is another thing entirely for a candidate to have the qualifications to be the chief of state, commander-in-chief of the U.S. military, leader of the free world and most powerful man in the world.
And the difference matters.
Being a billionaire who was able to run a very successful coffee company does not bridge the two different parts of the equation. Nor the mayor of a town of 102,000 people. Nor running a social media behemoth that abuses personal privacy and overlooks protective safeguards. One would wish that from the experience with Trump and Sarah Palin, the half-term governor of Alaska, the country would be best-served by recognizing that.
That is what bothers me. That a Howard Schultz-Pete Buttigieg-Mark Zuckerberg don't think the presidency is overwhelmingly serious and matters. And that, as much as anything, shows their qualifications for the job. Yes, Trump won, but as I noted, there are hellish Perfect Storm conditions that helped accomplish that. And yes, such a candidacy by a totally inexperienced, almost-completely unknown billionaire -- if he even ends up on all the ballots, or any in two years -- could possibly hurt Democrats. But there are only 24 hours in a day, there is only so much angst one can expend. And as the expression goes, keep your eyes on the prize. Trump is the prize. Not Howard Schultz.
Unless you're planning to order a double venti with a blueberry muffin.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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