Howard Schultz, the former chief executive of Starbucks, in West Lafayette, Ind., in February. (Michael Conroy/AP)
Columnist

An open letter to Howard Schultz:

Dear Mr. Schultz,

You may have been forgotten by most journalists — but not by me. It’s been a few weeks now since your presidential campaign, after enduring the most inauspicious product launch since New Coke, went into “sleep mode.” You’ve stopped campaigning. You’re not advertising. You’re laying off staff. You’ve explained that you’ve been hobbled by back surgeries. Your spokeswoman has said you’re waiting to see whether Joe Biden remains the front-runner around Labor Day; if he does, there’s not much room for you to run.

But let’s get serious: There was never much chance you would be elected anyway. If you run, you might actually help President Trump get reelected by splitting the anti-Trump vote. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t make a positive impact on our dysfunctional politics. Here’s what you can do: Start a centrist third party in your home state of Washington, then expand it to Oregon and California, and eventually perhaps to the rest of the country.

This third party — call it the Freedom Party, the Bull Moose Party, the Progressive Conservative Party, the Federalist Party, the Real Republican Party, or, in tribute to your favorite beverage, the Americano Party — could fill the vacuum left by the Trumpification (and lobotomization) of the GOP. As former Republican speaker John A. Boehner says, “There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

On the West Coast, the Republican Party has entered its own sleep mode. Out of California’s 53 U.S. House members, only seven are Republicans. In Oregon, it’s one of five. In Washington, it’s three of 10. All six legislative chambers in those three states are controlled by Democrats, and their margins grew in November: Democrats picked up 10 seats in Washington, four seats in Oregon, and eight seats in California. Democrats now have a supermajority in both houses in Oregon and California. In the Golden State, Republicans control only 25 percent of state legislature seats.

The governors and U.S. senators of all three states are Democrats, too. The only statewide elected Republicans on the West Coast are Oregon’s secretary of state and Washington’s secretary of state and treasurer. The GOP brand has been so tarnished that even Orange County, Calif., the historic heartland of the conservative movement, is no longer represented by a single Republican in Congress.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that voters on the West Coast are all Bernie-Sanders-style socialists. In fact, polls show Biden ahead in California just like in the rest of the country. But even moderate voters are repulsed by a Republican Party that has been moving steadily to the right in recent years — and has gone over the cliff since 2016. There used to be room for liberal Republicans such as Oregon senators Bob Packwood and Mark Hatfield, or Washington senators Slade Gorton and Dan Evans. No longer. The most prominent elected Republicans left on the West Coast — California Reps. Kevin McCarthy (the House minority leader) and Devin Nunes (the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee) — are both Trump toadies.

On both coasts, the GOP brand has become toxic because of Trump. Disapproval of Trump outweighs approval by 23 percentage points in Washington, 19 points in Oregon, and 21 points in California. Among California voters, the GOP is now less popular than “no party preference.” There are communicable diseases that might be more popular.

This one-party domination is bad for democracy: Any party, no matter how well-intentioned, is ripe for corruption, extremism and abuse of power if left unchecked. It also means that centrist voters are disenfranchised as Democrats veer to the left.

Mr. Schultz, you have a chance to “fix the system” (your campaign slogan) by creating a party that speaks to moderates such as you and me: voters who are socially liberal but economically conservative; in favor of addressing climate change but wary of the Green New Deal; pro-gun control and pro-defense; opposed to trade wars but supportive of NATO; in favor of border control but opposed to locking up children.

If a successful centrist third party can start on the West Coast, where, for all intents and purposes, the GOP has ceased to exist, it has the potential to spread across the country. Because what’s happening on the West Coast is only a more accelerated version of the presidentially assisted suicide that the GOP is committing elsewhere.

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey gave Democrats and independents who lean Democratic an 8-point advantage in voter identification nationally — and a 35-point edge among Hispanics, 76 points among African Americans, 38 points among Asian Americans, and 27 points among millennials. As the older generation dies off, and as the country becomes majority minority, the Republican Party will be in deep trouble.

You, Mr. Schultz, can start filling the centrist vacuum by using your ample resources — and convincing your wealthy friends to do the same — to create a party that could conceivably do to the Republican Party what the Republican Party did to the Whigs in the 1850s. It may be a long shot, but it’s got higher odds of success than your presidential campaign.

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