Last Friday, on the first truly beautiful day of this spring, I sat down on a patio overlooking Lady Bird Lake to interview potential independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz. It was shirt-sleeve weather, and the billionaire co-founder of Starbucks coffee was attired informally in a white dress shirt sans tie as he explained why he believes a centrist independent can win the presidency in 2020. But since Schultz announced his interest in running on CBS’s 60 Minutes in January, Democrats have worried that he will split the vote of those opposed to President Trump and give Trump his best chance to win reelection next year. Schultz was smart, informed, and sincere, but he also lacked the electric fire so necessary in a presidential candidate.
TM: Dallas tech billionaire Ross Perot made two independent runs for president. His best showing was 1992, when he received 19 percent of the vote—22 percent in Texas. In 1980, independent John Anderson received 7 percent of the vote. How would your run have any different result?
HS: Logistically, we’ve done all the work. If we decide to run, then we will be on the ballot of all fifty states. And, currently, approximately 30 percent of the electorate are registered independents and an additional 12 percent state that they would affiliate themselves as an independent if they had a legitimate choice.
For the last thirty plus years, the presidential election has been decided basically by eight to ten battleground states. Let’s talk about sitting here in Texas today. Texas has not gone Democrat since 1976. If I choose to run for president and it’s a three-person race in the state of Texas, there’s a good chance Donald Trump does not win Texas. And from my personal calculations, if he doesn’t win Texas he doesn’t get to 270 [the minimum number of Electoral College votes a candidate needs to win the presidency].
TM: And you believe you can win in a three-person race?
HS: We believe we have a path to 270 based on where the country is at and if the Democrats choose a far-left person who is espousing socialistic policies. I mean, lifelong Republicans who despise the character of this president will not vote for [Bernie] Sanders, [Elizabeth] Warren, [or Kamala] Harris. But lifelong Republicans who have a choice of a centrist person who is fiscally conservative [makes for] a different kind of conversation.
TM: As someone of Jewish faith, have you encountered any anti-Semitism to your candidacy, and is the nation ready for a Jewish president?
HS: I have not felt any degree of anti-Semitism pointed at me. The numbers that I’ve heard, it is about a 61 percent rise in anti-Semitism in America over the last twelve months. It’s even worse in Europe. I was asked on 60 Minutes if I think that the country is ready for a Jewish president. I answered yes.
I’ve got great faith in the goodness of the American people, and if I run for president I’m not running as a Jew; I’m running as an American. I remember vividly John Kennedy in 1960 came under such assault because he was Catholic, and he did a masterful job in 1960 of talking about the differences between church and state.
[Regarding Israel and Palestine], many Jewish people might not even agree with my position currently with regard to the settlements and the fact that I always believed that we need a two-state solution for the state of Israel and for the entire Middle East.
TM: The immigration debate is having a major impact on Texas. Is there an immigration crisis or a humanitarian crisis on the border with Mexico?
HS: There’s [both] an immigration crisis [and] a humanitarian crisis. I spoke about this to a large audience at SMU this weekend, and maybe people didn’t like some of the things I had to say, but this is what I believe. So we do have an immigration crisis and we do have bad people trying to come into the country illegally. And those people should not be coming into the country. We should be preventing that kind of border crossing. The Republicans have it right. We need a strict level of border security. I agree with that 100 percent. They also have it right that ICE has a role and responsibility and needs to be properly resourced.
I don’t believe that mothers should be stripped from their babies. And I think it is horrifying to think that these families have been broken up. And they can’t be reconstituted because people don’t know where the kids and the parents are. The U.S. government is accountable for that under this administration. I [also] believe the Democrats are correct, in a humanitarian way, for a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers.
Then we have the question of the 11 million or so people who are here unauthorized. I don’t believe there is a logistical way or a humane way that we’re literally going to send 11 to 12 million people back. We have no way of doing that. So we’ve politicized that when in fact we should figure out a way for those 11 to 12 million people, if they’re working and haven’t paid their taxes, they should pay their taxes. They should pay a fee and they should get in line. And there should be some pathway to citizenship.
TM: As a lifelong Democrat, why would you run as an independent?
HS: I’m profoundly concerned about the direction of the country—the lack of leadership, the lack of truth. The current level of dysfunction and polarization on both sides of the aisle, and the unwillingness or lack of any sense of compromise or collaboration, I’ve never witnessed in my life.
You’re constantly reminded of the goodness and the kindness of the American people, which has nothing to do with the dysfunction in Washington. But it has everything to do with it because we are relying on our leaders to provide us with an opportunity that we’re not being given, which is to fix these very complex problems that have been with us for so long, not the least of which is the $22 trillion debt that no one seems to be willing to talk about.
Yes, it is a two-party system. The [political] extremes are so steeped in their own ideology, self-interest, and preservation that it’s the filter and the lens in which they see every issue. So if we have a choice between President Trump and a far left-leaning Democrat who is professing one policy after another that is socialistic in nature, the American people are going to have a terrible choice. And so I have just come to the conclusion that the vast majority of Americans, which is the silent majority, believe that the problems that I’m describing not only exist but they’re very self-aware that they just don’t have anywhere to go.
TM: And if the Democrats are correct that your candidacy would give President Trump a reelection victory, would you stay in the race?
HS: I would do nothing, on any level, to be in a position to reelect Donald Trump. And I can’t predict what that might mean. If the math for me does not work as a independent candidate, then I will bow out. But at this point the courage of my convictions is real.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.