"When nothing is sure, everything is possible."
I have always admired and respected Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, for the way in which he built a great global company. One that espouses purpose and giving back as things that are not just words in some corporate manifesto, but in tangible ways that impact lives of employees and people within the communities they serve. Starbucks under his leadership has never just talked the talk.
So I was excited when he announced that he was exploring running as an independent candidate for President United Sates of America. I have written why I believe that an independent candidate running in 2020 is not just a good idea to help re-invigorate liberalism but also necessary to save our democracy from extremists on both sides who currently dominate and drive the conversation. I believe it is necessary to awaken the silent majority.
So I was saddened to get his email explaining his decision to give up, even before he started this important fight. I understand that in the interim Mr. Schultz suffered a serious back injury and had to undergo multiple surgeries which have prevented him from travelling, and limited his outreach, but he does not cite the injury as the reason for not moving forward.
On the contrary, throughout his email he talks about the reasons an independent candidate should be running. He talks about the fact that we currently have a situation where Democrats and Republicans have consistently put party over country, perpetuated divisiveness and gridlock, failed to solve big problems and the “American people are more united than our leaders, and we deserve better.”
A CBS news poll finds that “by margins of more than two to one, Democrats are looking for someone who will unite the country, rather than push for more liberal policies.” This 70% of democratic voters is a whopping majority, and not a small number. The same poll found that, contrary to the angry voices who dominate social media, eighty-two percent of democratic voters want someone “who expresses a hopeful tone about the potential of the country” to counter Trump’s vitriol and divisiveness, not someone who will offer more of the same but on the left. Further, it finds that in early primary states, “a notable two-thirds said they want a nominee who would work with Republicans to get things done once in office.”
There is much data that shows that Mr. Schultz is correct about the fact that our country is more united than the hopelessly divided picture that is painted in the mainstream media, through the narrow prism of social media and by divisive politicians in both parties.
Consider that even on the most polarising issues, there is overwhelming consensus on both sides of the aisle when it comes to voters. A Yale University study that has been tracking beliefs about climate changes for the last five years finds that 73% of Americans believe that global warming is real, 69% are worried about it and 62% believe it is being caused by human activity.
Another Quinnipiac University poll found that a majority of respondents (66%) support stricter gun laws and 97% support universal background checks. Further, 83% agree with a mandatory waiting period before someone is able to purchase a firearm and 67% support an all-out assault weapons ban. This commanding majority also agrees that it is too easy to buy a gun (67%) and three-quarters believe that “Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.”
There is already common ground on which practical and sensible solutions can be built, even on the most divisive and polarising issues. Unfortunately common sense and unity do not make for stories that drive great ratings, clicks or create drama in a field of twenty-plus candidates.
More in Common, a nonprofit that reaches across political divides, has found that even though we hold dissimilar views on numerous issues, more than three in four Americans believe that “our differences aren’t so great that we can’t work together.”
They have also found clear evidence of an "exhausted majority” that Mr. Schultz refers to in his email. This majority is sick and tired of the political polarisation and constant focus on our divisions versus on the values that unite us. Their report states that people “share a deep sense of gratitude that they are citizens of the United States. They want to move past our differences.”
Amanda Ripley writes in the Washington post about research showing that the ideal candidate that voters are looking for is not a person with all the answers and policy solutions. The fact is that most people are pragmatic and understand that no one person, or party, can provide all the answers. Also, they don’t trust politicians to follow through on their promises.
They are looking for a candidate who understands their realities. “When people feel understood, they become more willing to hear different ideas”. The research finds that people are more willing to listen to a person who can recognize and acknowledge their struggles, even if they disagree with a candidate’s specific policies and solution.
Given this I truly believe that it will be nearly impossible for a candidate from either party to appeal to this important silent majority that has the power to break the will of the vociferous minority. At a time when Congress’s approval rating hovers in the high teens and disapproval remains steady at 79% according to the latest Gallup poll, and more than two-thirds of Americans have little or no confidence in the federal government, we will need someone who can break this status quo. I believe that someone needs to be an independent candidate.
Barack Obama was such a candidate. The fact that he was an unknown and political novice made his appeal cut across partisan divides and gave people the hope that neither Senator McCain nor Senator Clinton was able to offer. Once again in 2016 voters rejected ALL the establishment candidates and chose another outsider, albeit of a very different stripe.
Another reason it is important for an independent candidate to run is because the presidential primary process is flawed. By only allowing registered voters to participate, versus the entire electorate, it allows a small, vociferous minority in the base to dictate terms and drive the outcomes. Historically, voter participation in the primaries hovers at less than 20%.
Hamstrung by this reality, candidates are unable to speak to the broader electorate, or posit solutions that break with their party’s positions on issues. They must pander to their extremes. We saw the disastrous results of this strategy unfold in the 2016 Republican primaries that enabled Donald Trump to lead a hostile takeover of the party of Abraham Lincoln. I fear the same will thing will happen to Democrats by time the field of twenty candidates is winnowed.
Irrespective, the damage with the silent majority is already done because candidates cannot unsay and undo the partisan, polarising and extreme views and positions they have taken during the primaries and suddenly transform into people who can cut across political divides. Mr. Schultz identifies this danger and says he is worried about “far-left policy ideas being advanced by several Democratic candidates” and rightly believes it will serve to further alienate voters.”
The irony is that he closes by saying that the silent majority has been drowned out by vitriolic extremes and “has largely tuned out of political life online and in the news, leaving the extreme voices to define the debate.” Yet, rather than offer a reason for this majority re-engage and lead the charge in taking back control of our national debate, he chooses to step out of the arena and makes a plea for us to find “the best of ourselves on the national stage, and to the world”.
I understand that running for President is not an easy decision and it is a deeply personal one that will involve dragging oneself and one’s family though the mud of modern day media. So I do not think less of him or judge Mr. Shultz for choosing not to proceed.
Given where we are today in our one-sided political debates and with the dearth of leadership in both parties, I believe the risk of an independent candidate running at the cost of re-electing President Trump, is one worth taking.
As long as private citizens like Mr. Schultz and Mr. Bloomberg who have the means to finance national campaigns, unlike the rest of us, choose not to be the “man (or woman) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood” we will not be able to break the two-party stranglehold on our democracy.