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Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sure sounds like a 2020 presidential candidate

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he believes “the country needs to become more compassionate” in an interview on Sept. 20, 2017. (Video: The Washington Post)

Since announcing in December that he would step down as Starbucks chief executive, there has been speculation that Howard Schultz is eyeing a run for president in 2020. A couple weeks back, I pegged him as the businessperson most likely to win the Democratic nomination.

Well, Howard Schultz sure sounds like a candidate.

Schultz spoke with The Washington Post at a job fair for young people on Wednesday, and while he insisted he wasn't talking politics, it wasn't difficult imagine him delivering the same words in a stump speech in Des Moines.

“The worst thing that we all, whether we be businesspeople or private citizens — we should not be embracing indifference right now,” Schultz said at the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative. “We have to be engaged, we’ve got to speak out, we’ve got to be involved, we gotta stand up for the things that we know are true. And I think the country, in many ways, is in need of a moral, a cultural and an economic transformation.”

Schultz drew attention in March for attacking President Trump, calling him “a president that is creating episodic chaos every day.” He said that Trump's behavior was “no doubt affecting consumer behavior.”

Schultz also recently penned an op-ed after the tragedy in Charlottesville and traveled to Houston after Hurricane Harvey. And he's offered pretty flimsy denials about whether he will run. (Asked about it after his December announcement, he said: “I’m all in on all things Starbucks and have no plans to run for public office.” Asked if that could change: “That’s the way I feel today.")

At one point while talking about the job fair, Schultz brought up that visit to Houston and used it as an example of Americans being “left behind.” He emphasized twice that his comments weren't about politics — and Schultz is certainly no stranger to social activism — but Schultz's words would have been just as at home coming out of Barack Obama's mouth or Bill Clinton's mouth. Here's a snippet:

The whole issue is, we cannot have an America where so many people are being left behind. I found myself in Houston a week and a half ago after the hurricane. I wanted to see the aftereffects, but mostly I wanted to talk to people. And you learn a few things that are heartbreaking. You know, 40 percent of American households don’t have $400 of cash available to them. Only 2 percent of the people in Houston that I talked to had flood insurance — and probably those people were in the right Zip code. There’s tens of thousands of people in a shelter today. And so I think, if we think about the country today — and I’m not talking about politics — I think the country needs to become more compassionate, more empathetic. And we can’t speak about the promise of America and the American Dream and leave millions of people behind. And it’s my view that — leave Washington aside and all the politics aside — businesses and business leaders need to do a lot more for the people they employ, the communities we serve, and we can make a significant difference. And this job fair is emblematic of just that.

It's not difficult to attach these comments to Trump. The country needs “a moral, a cultural and an economic transformation,” the country “needs to become more compassionate, more empathetic,” etc. The one time he mentioned Trump was when talking about Trump's travel ban — which he labeled a “Muslim ban.”

“We felt very strongly, as a result of the president’s Muslim ban, that it was important to demonstrate a level of inclusion,” he said. “And we decided we were going to hire at least 10,000 refugees.”

Sounds like a great talking point for the 2020 Democratic primary.