Vowing to fight against President Trump’s reelection despite concerns that he would aid it, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz debuted the agenda for his potential independent presidential bid Thursday, offering a broad condemnation of the two-party political system but few new policy specifics.
“Leading as an independent would allow me to represent all of the American people, and focus on the best solutions through a new, nonpartisan lens,” he told a ticketed crowd at Purdue University in Indiana.
He made clear that his exploration of a campaign was predicated on his fear that a “far-left” Democratic 2020 nominee would deliver reelection to Trump by pushing away many voters in the middle of the political spectrum. At the same time, he promised to avoid forcing the same result by splitting the anti-Trump vote, a concern of many Democratic political strategists.
“Trump must not serve a second term,” he said. “As I explore whether to run for office, I will do so with the conviction that my final decision must not make his reelection a possibility. I can assure you no one wants Donald Trump fired more than I.”
Schultz, a lifelong Democrat who recently re-registered as an independent, has said he will make a decision on running for president in the next few months, following a national book tour that also includes an aggressive national media effort to share his vision.
He described policies that would hue closely to his former party’s consensus positions during Barack Obama’s presidency, with a more rigorous focus on fiscal discipline. This included new, undefined efforts to lower health care costs, a comprehensive immigration overhaul along the lines of the failed 2013 Senate bill, more background checks for gun ownership and a greater focus on vocational training and apprenticeship programs.
“We need to talk about reforming the tax code not with bumper sticker slogans but with tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses to spur hiring and economic growth,” he said, adding that he would support raising taxes on billionaires like himself.
He repeated his condemnation of liberal plans to expand federal health coverage for all Americans or to hire large numbers of new government workers as a solution to unemployment. He also argued for balancing the federal budget, though he did not describe what cuts he would make to federal entitlements like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, which are projected to drive deficit spending in the future.
“I believe we can do so while keeping America strong and reinforcing the safety net for the most vulnerable,” he said of ending deficit spending.
By getting elected outside the two-party system, he said, he would be less beholden to special interests and better able to build bipartisan consensus in Washington. He repeatedly cast both political parties as similarly beholden to their ideological fringes and equally responsible for the country’s current position.
“The truth is both sides have been reckless with our finances,” he said.
His focus on the nation’s ideological extremes, rather than the actual positions of the two party’s leaderships, allowed him to reframe the political debates in Washington in a way that did not always match the actual divisions in Congress. He used the words “far left” or “far right” 14 times during the speech.
“Some on the far left want to ban guns altogether,” he said, a line that glossed over the fact that Democratic leaders have universally rejected such proposals. “The far right has pushed back on even reasonable limitations on gun ownership.”
He left his most pointed criticism for Trump, however, calling his presidency “one of the most significant security threats America faces in the post-World War II era.” He criticized Trump for his plans to withdraw troops from Syria, starting a “damaging and unnecessary” trade war with China, turning a blind eye to Russian interference in the 2016 election and giving license to bigotry and racism.
Schultz also noted that he had achieved his current wealth, estimated at $3.4 billion, with fewer starting resources than Trump.
“The only thing I ever inherited was my mother’s dream and belief in the American Dream,” he said.
The ticketed crowd of several hundred seemed at times uncertain about whether it was witnessing an academic lecture or a political barnstorm, with only a few attempts at applause during his remarks.
Twice Schultz found himself asking the audience to clap, first after he praised the university for its efforts to control tuition costs and later when he pledged to release his tax returns if he declared himself a candidate.
“You can clap for that,” he said after hesitant applause for the latter.