Howard Schultz must run as a Democrat for chance in 2020

I recently had the opportunity to hear potential independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz at one of my favorite local venues. The event at the Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington was moderated by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. As someone who has worked in virtually every Democratic campaign for president since 1968, I came away with some distinct impressions. Schultz is an engaging fellow with a compelling personal story. He is also very naive politically. He was asked about his potential role as a spoiler for the Democratic nominee, in the context of Ralph Nader costing Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreCruz says Senate Republicans likely have votes to confirm Trump Supreme Court nominee 4 inconclusive Electoral College results that challenged our democracy Fox's Napolitano: 2000 election will look like 'child's play' compared to 2020 legal battles MORE the state of Florida and the election in 2000.

His response was twofold. First, he said he would not do anything to help President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE get reelected. Second, he believes that there is a great untapped potential of independent voters who could help an independent candidate win the presidency. This ignores the effect that independent candidate Ross Perot had in 1992. Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote against Democrat Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonGOP brushes back charges of hypocrisy in Supreme Court fight Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates MORE and Republican George Bush. Perot did not win a single electoral vote, but most observers believe that he took enough conservative votes away from Bush to tip the election to Clinton.


Every presidential election rests on electoral votes. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win. This is decided state by state on a “winner take all” basis, except in Maine and Nebraska, where electoral votes are allocated by districts. In 1992, the combined votes of Perot and Bush exceeded 50 percent in 21 states with 194 electoral votes. But Clinton won all 21 states with a plurality in each state and received all 194 electoral votes from those states. That was enough to put him over the top when added to other states he won. Clinton won Michigan with close to 44 percent of the vote, while Bush received short of 38 percent and Perot received more than 19 percent. Clinton won Ohio with 40 percent of the vote, while Bush received 38 percent and Perot received 21 percent.

Next year, it is certainly possible that the combined total for Schultz and Democratic nominee could exceed 50 percent in a number of key states and Trump could win all the electoral votes in those states with a plurality, just a Clinton did in 1992. I personally liked the result in 1992, but I would hate a comparable result favoring Trump in 2020. It is highly unlikely that Schultz could carry enough states to win the presidency. He might even wind up not carrying a single state, the same fate that Perot had suffered.

Another example of his political naivete was his response to the question of campaign finance reform. He railed against the current system and said he thought the public would support a major overhaul. Clearly, the current system stinks. However, Schultz ignored the fact that you cannot make major changes in the current system with legislation. The Supreme Court has held that campaign spending is a free speech issue and that limits on campaign spending violate the Constitution. In order to make a change, you need to amend the Constitution through a very difficult process. You cannot just waive a magic wand and change the entire system overnight.

Schultz has his heart in the right place. He wants to increase spending on public education and make sure everyone has access to affordable health insurance. Schultz is a moderate who wants to work across party lines. His problem is not with his heart but with his head. If Schultz really wants to have a chance of getting elected, he should join the people seeking the Democratic nomination. Michael Bloomberg considered the independent path and rejected that idea, so if he runs, it will be as a Democrat. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Schultz that a dose of reality cannot cure.

Martin Frost served as a representative from Texas in Congress and is a past chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.