Roses are red, violets are blue, but does Howard Schultz even see color?
It was Valentine’s Day in Washington, and Republicans and Democrats nationwide had put aside their mutual contempt to share the greatest love of all: hating Schultz, the former Starbucks chief executive and “person of means” who says he may run for president as an independent.
“He’s accomplished his goal,” said Eric Rubin, a nurse who took his wife on a date to see Schultz speak at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in downtown Washington. “He’s united the country in their universal disdain!”
In the past few weeks, Schultz has begged for applause from a bored audience at Purdue University, awakened an army of haters on Twitter who believe he’ll get President Trump reelected and told a CNN town hall that when it comes to seeing race he was colorblind. (He walked it back in a recent interview at The Washington Post.) Now, as Schultz tours the country behind a newly released memoir (his second) with a coffee pun title (“From the Ground Up”), he has joined the list of things people love to hate — alongside dating apps, Crocs and Starbucks.
The early polling for Schultz has been not good. In a CNN poll, 4 percent of Americans said they were very likely to support him as a presidential candidate, while 44 percent said they very likely wouldn’t.
And so, as Schultz arrived in the nation’s capital on the nation’s most romantic holiday, a question: Who loves him?
“We bought these tickets before he said he might run. We’re not fans. I’m definitely not broadcasting that I’m here on social media; I’m anonymous,” said Courtney Adams, a nanny who had driven almost three hours with her sister-in-law to be here because she didn’t want to eat the ticket. “I mentioned we bought these tickets before he said he might run for office, right?”
“Valentine’s Day is always a disaster,” said Tom Sheeran, sitting beside his date, Theresa Harrison, in a center pew. “Restaurants are always crowded, roses are expensive, people are miserable, so how could this be any worse?”
“My wife’s in Ethiopia. and I didn’t have any plans for Valentine’s Day, so why not?” Selcuk Karaoglan said. “But I don’t really even like Starbucks.”
Outside, protesters dressed as unicorns, the Monopoly Man and Cupid gathered to hold signs (including one that weirdly just said: “This is a sign”) while music blared from a truck parked across the street: “You’re so vain/ You probably think this song is about you.”
But inside the synagogue, it was a relatively sleepy affair. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin interviewed Schultz for almost an hour in front a sold-out crowd; a crowd, that unlike his stop in New York City (“Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire,” plus an expletive), did not feature any outbursts.
There were even people there who supported him: Starbucks managers grateful for the company he built, small-business owners looking for inspiration and members of the endangered species known as the “centrist.”
“I think it would be a tremendous symbol to unite the country if he were elected,” said David Conn, a government employee, who isn’t a fan of the president but unlike most Democrats doesn’t think Trump is ruining everything he touches. “Anyone who thinks a Democrat is suddenly going to solve all the problems is very fool-hearted.”
Even Kearns Goodwin, who has written books on Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, began the evening by granting Schultz a compliment: He offered, she said, something her usual subjects lacked.
“You’re alive,” she said. “You’re not dead. It’s great.”
So, he’s got his life and a compelling life story, one that the billionaire shared onstage: He grew up in Brooklyn, poor and with an abusive father. He went on to create a business empire, make himself a few billion dollars and changed coffee culture in America. He drinks four cups a day, he told the crowd. He wakes up every morning at 4:30 without needing the aid of an alarm clock. Not exactly thrilling stuff, but what’s to hate?
Consider the context. In a time when there are major policy differences between the two sides, what does it even mean to be in the middle? And what if this quest for “common ground” (a coffee reference we predict you will see if Schultz does run), ends up maintaining the status quo?
When Schultz went on CNN for his town hall, the most-submitted question, according to the moderator, was whether he would drop out if his candidacy looked as if it would get Trump reelected. It was, again, the first question from the audience Schultz fielded in Washington.
He began by saying he sees things differently.
“I worry that if it’s a far-left person, that Donald Trump is going to get reelected,” he said. He doesn’t want to see “the country move toward a level of socialism,” and as a centrist he doesn’t “feel a sense of home” in the Democratic Party anymore. So why shouldn’t he run?
So what if there’s evidence that he would draw votes from Democrats, making a Trump victory at least a little more likely?
“I will do nothing from this point on to reelect Trump,” Schultz said without offering specifics.
But how can he know for sure? Wouldn’t it be safer to run as a Democrat or to not run at all? This is the worry that makes his evocation of “leadership,” “character” and “finding common things that bind us together” drive so many people nuts. For as long as they even bother paying attention, anyway.
“We have to do everything humanly possible to lift everyone up,” Schultz said onstage near the end of the evening. “Now, these are not platitudes. This is about the leadership of the country. And someone has to say this is the business of America.”
This line drew no shouted obscenities from the rafters. But it didn’t inspire rapturous applause, either. It was as if the crowd realized that it wasn’t worth hating the center. Like the middle of a bagel, there was really nothing there to hate. Or to love.