Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has recruited at least three veteran House Republican staffers and consultants to join his presidential campaign-in-waiting, bringing on seasoned and well-connected GOP operatives who know their way around the very political apparatus helping to reelect President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE in 2020.

They include Brendon DelToro and Matt LoParco, who served as deputy political director and external affairs director, respectively, to former National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversOvernight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker House approves amendment to reverse transgender military ban Fed chief: Facebook crypto project poses 'serious concerns' for economy, consumers MORE (R-Ohio) during the 2018 cycle.

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A third Schultz hire, GOP consultant Greg Strimple, founder of GS Strategy Group, has done polling and other consulting for the NRCC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with former Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOcasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump MORE (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting Democrats erupt over Trump attacks Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid MORE (R-Calif.), according to campaign finance reports.

The hires are reflective of Schultz’s efforts to cast himself as a political centrist who doesn’t neatly fit into the rank-and-file of either major party. They also signal that Schultz, a lifelong Democrat, is likely to make a play for Republican voters should he mount a campaign for the White House.

In an interview, Stivers said former NRCC staffers are free to do what they want but called it “frustrating” that some would choose to work for a man who is looking to oust Trump next year.

“That’s frustrating, but it’s their lives,” Stivers, a Trump ally, said in an interview with The Hill. “We had 90 Republicans operatives working for us and some of them are gonna go do other things.”

Asked specifically about DelToro, who is said to be recruiting fellow NRCC alums to the Schultz operation in Seattle, Stivers replied: “It’s a free world, and he can do what he wants. I’m not sure it will be easy for him to get back into Republican politics, but that’s on him I guess.”

“I hope he’s well paid,” Stivers added.

DelToro did not respond to a request for comment.

Asked about former NRCC staffers working for Team Schultz, current NRCC Chairman Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerThe Hill's Morning Report - Democrats frustrated by Hope Hicks's silence GOP hopes dim on reclaiming House Republicans raise concerns over House campaign arm leadership MORE (R-Minn.) replied: “I don’t know anything about it.”

Schultz spokeswoman Erin McPike pushed back on Stivers’s suggestion that these operatives would have trouble breaking back into Republican politics.

The former Starbucks CEO, she said, is focused on bringing together staffers “from all walks of life and political stripes”

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“When you talk about it from people with both sides of the aisle, there’s nothing else going on quite like this right now,” McPike said Wednesday. “So, the idea that Steve Stivers would say someone can’t work on one side of the aisle again … that is unbelievable to me.”

Sources said Schultz, a billionaire, is throwing big money at experienced, professional Democratic and Republican operatives alike — annual salaries perhaps in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In January, Schultz hired veteran GOP strategist Steve Schmidt and veteran Democratic strategist Bill Burton.

“I would insist on $500,000 a year, plus moving expenses,” said a former veteran GOP presidential campaign staffer who has been closely watching the Schultz campaign take shape. “It’s a tremendous financial opportunity. Senior jobs in a presidential campaign don’t grow on trees, and if you are not enthused about working for Trump, it’s alluring. I don’t begrudge these people at all.”

Last cycle, DelToro and LoParco worked out of the same building that houses the Republican National Committee, which Trump has now merged with his 2020 reelection campaign, though they were not employed by the RNC.

The new Schultz hires are irking Republicans and Democrats alike.

In the weeks after Schultz raised the prospect of an independent run in January, some Democrats worried that his candidacy would siphon off centrist votes from the eventual Democratic nominee and potentially hand Trump a second term in the White House.

Fueling frustrations was Schultz’s decision to hire Burton, who advised former President Obama during his successful 2008 run for the White House. Democrats saw that move as seeking to lend credibility to Schultz’s nascent political operation.

At the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) annual winter meeting last month, party officials privately grumbled over Schultz’s prospective independent bid.

But the tenor of those complaints reflected more frustration than concern.

Several DNC members said Schultz — despite being a lifelong Democrat — had done little in the past to help the party and that a White House run looked more like a publicity stunt than a genuine effort to oust Trump.

“I’m only hoping he hires smart people who can advise him pragmatically on how dangerous this is,” one Democratic operative said Thursday. “Are they prepared to tell Howard Schultz, ‘the book tour is over, time to get back to real life.’ ”

That operative warned that a job on Schultz’s would-be campaign could also be toxic for anyone looking to return to Democratic politics in the future.

“Howard Schultz’s campaign represents the best opportunity Donald Trump has for reelection,” the operative said. “So, anyone who enables this process is someone [Democrats] won’t want to hire. I’m not even sure we’d want to have them over for dinner.”

Schultz’s GOP hires have bounced around Republican circles for years, and in some cases, decades. 

Earlier this decade, DelToro served as both campaign manager and chief of staff for Rep. Jackie WalorskiJacqueline (Jackie) R. WalorskiHeavy loss by female candidate in Republican NC runoff sparks shock Drugmaker challenges FDA on animal testing Lawmakers pressed to fix tax law glitch MORE (R-Ind.). He then managed former Indiana GOP Rep. Marlin StutzmanMarlin Andrew StutzmanK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid McCarthy's GOP critics see opening after Benghazi blunder MORE’s failed 2016 Senate campaign.

On the Stutzman campaign, DelToro worked closely with Brooks Kochvar, who has also joined Team Schultz, GOP sources confirmed.

Kochvar has advised Walorski, Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeLiberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act exposes Silicon Valley's hollow diversity slogans Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command MORE (R-Utah) and former Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law MORE (R-N.H.), who was Neil Gorsuch’s Trump-appointed liaison to Capitol Hill during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.   

Kochvar also worked with Strimple at GS Strategy Group, a consulting firm with deep ties to the Congressional Leadership Fund and other Republican groups.

During the 2018 election cycle, the GOP leadership-aligned PAC paid GS Strategy more than $1.5 million for polling services, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Among the firm’s other top clients in 2018: Senate Leadership Fund, the Senate Republican leadership-aligned super PAC, and Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyCheney blasts Ocasio-Cortez over DHS dissolution Ocasio-Cortez suggests she's open to dissolving Homeland Security Pennsylvania Republican expected to replace Amash on Oversight MORE (R-Wyo.), chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, whose campaign paid GS Strategy $11,700 for polling work.

LoParco, Stiver’s body man last cycle, previously worked for Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsTech executives to take hot seat at antitrust hearing Mueller to give extended testimony after appearance postponed House passes bill to reauthorize funding for 9/11 victims MORE (Ga.), who served in GOP leadership and is now the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

-- Updated at 12:45 p.m.