- Howard Schultz, formerly the leader of Starbucks, is reportedly considering running for president as an independent candidate.
- An independent candidate could split the progressive vote, making it easier for Trump to be reelected, according to some Democratic strategists.
- Schultz’s political efforts as CEO of Starbucks are well-documented, including when he blasted Trump’s attempt to bar refugees from entering the United States and spearheaded the company’s examination of racial bias at the chain.
Howard Schultz – the man responsible for making Starbucks a household name – is reportedly considering a 2020 presidential run.
After more than three decades leading the coffee giant, Schultz stepped down as Starbucks’ CEO in April 2017 and as chairman in June 2018. In 2019, he is kicking off a national book tour for his memoir, “From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America.”
Starbucks and Schultz did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Rumors of political aspirations have followed Schultz for years. Schultz has long acted in a manner very similar to a political candidate, even when he was leading Starbucks.
However, it remains unclear whether Americans would be interested in Schultz as a candidate if he chooses to run. In a December 2018 straw poll by progressive organizing group MoveOn, only 0.1% said that they would support Schultz as a candidate in 2020.
Many Democratic strategists and others who hope to defeat Trump in the 2020 election have warned that an independent candidate could split the progressive vote, resulting in Trump’s reelection, The Washington Post reports.
“I have two words for Howard Schultz on a potential run for president as an independent: Just. Don’t,” Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said in a statement on Friday.
“Too much is at stake to make this about the ambitions of any one person.”
Starbucks’ political sway
Rumors about Schultz running for office have been floating around for years, in large part because of his reputation as a politically engaged CEO.
In 2011, Schultz encouraged people not to donate to political campaigns until the government addressed national debt. In 2015, he spearheaded the “Race Together” campaign to address police brutality and racism. In a 2015 New York Times op-ed celebrating bipartisan leadership, Schultz said he wasn’t running for office, “despite the encouragement of others.”
President Donald Trump’s rise to power has run parallel to Schultz growing more outspoken. In September 2016, Schultz endorsed Hillary Clinton for president – his first time publicly endorsing a candidate.
That December, he announced plans to step down as CEO, saying he would instead be focusing on Starbucks’ “social missions” as chairman. In January 2017, he blasted Trump’s attempt to bar refugees from entering the US, inspiring boycott threats from the right. In August 2017, he wrote a piece in the Financial Times about national identity after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville.
Schultz also helped lead Starbucks’ 2018 efforts to address racial bias at the chain after an incident in which two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia location. Starbucks closed 8,000 locations for an afternoon so that employees could undergo racial-bias training. It also changed store policies to open bathrooms to all, even people who do not make a purchase.
Schultz’s political connections
- Stephen Brashear/Getty
Schultz’s connections with politics go deeper than many realize, according to two former employees who spoke with Business Insider in 2017.
“He always had an interest in politics and always surrounded himself” with politically minded people, one former Starbucks employee who worked closely with Schulz for close to a decade said. “But very quietly.”
In addition to some degree of familiarity with the Bush family and former President Jimmy Carter, Schultz apparently has a close relationship with the Clintons, according to one source.
Kris Engskov, who until recently served as Starbucks’ president of US retail, was Bill Clinton’s aide from 1997 to 2000. Schultz emailed Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election about ways to “emotionally reach and touch the American people.” Clinton reportedly planned to appoint Schultz as her secretary of labor had she been elected president.
If Schultz were to run for office, he would most likely turn to the Clintons for advice, according to one former employee.
“If President Clinton said he should run for office, he would do it,” the ex-corporate employee said.