Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is mulling a run for president, headed straight for Hillary Clinton’s right flank, just as Joe Biden aims for her left.
Schultz, 62, has no formal political experience. None. Zero. Nada. But he is one of the most charismatic and inspiring individuals I have met. Also one of the most competitive, and most accomplished. (A good place for full disclosure: I know Howard Schultz personally, and the venture firm which he cofounded but does not run is an investor in TheWrap. Read on, or don’t.)
If you have ever seen Schultz in action, rallying his employees when Starbucks was in deep trouble, preaching his business vision at a shareholders meeting attended by thousands, you’d see that he’s a political natural.
But will Hollywood, which has already raised millions for Hillary Clinton, see that? Will they give him a shot — and I don’t mean espresso?
The official word from Maureen Dowd is that the Democratic powers-that-be are urging the business leader to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. They are fearful that her “negatives” — people don’t trust her, the latest polls suggest — will prove overwhelming in the general election. And while Hillary is definitely competent and experienced, and while she would be the first woman president and exciting for that reason, a distinctive Clinton fatigue has already been making itself felt.
That whole email thing isn’t helping her. Plus, nobody likes a coronation. Winning the nomination should be hard.
But here in the land of money and movie magic, Hillary’s ties are very deep. Haim Saban is probably her greatest single ally, and Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg also major supporters, having just given her super-PAC millions.
Some of those donors are also friends of Schultz. Schultz, a self-made billionaire who grew up in public projects in Brooklyn, doesn’t need their money. But he does need them to give his potential candidacy a serious look. Schultz brings core decency and critical authenticity to the game. He is a born storyteller who made us believe that drinking Starbucks made us better people. He would do the same as a national leader, I believe.
There’s a million reasons why anyone might object to considering Schultz as a candidate. (Foreign policy, anyone?) Also a million reasons why Schultz might prefer to avoid the rough ride that awaits anyone brave (or crazy) enough to step into the political ring.
But as an American, I love that he has made health care a central tenet of employment at Starbucks. I love that he turned the company around in 2009 after seeing the stock dive and morale plummet, and is riding high again.
Schultz has been testing the political waters for some time now. His desire to solve the nation’s pressing social and economic problems have led him to use his platform at Starbucks in areas that at times have little to do with selling coffee. (Race Together, anyone?)
He’s been frustrated with Obama’s leadership, and more or less been saying so consistently.
“The country is definitely not going in the right direction. There is a significant void of leadership in America and around the world,” he said at the last shareholders meeting in December. “I strongly believe that businesses and business leaders have a significant responsibility to do all we can to bring our people along with us and share our significant success … and not wait for Washington because the void of leadership is getting bigger and bigger.”
As Starbucks CEO, Schultz reached out to the country during the government shutdown to urge an end to that nonsense, launched in-store campaigns to pitch in on unemployment and helped military veterans returning from overseas wars. He’s created a “no guns” policy in his stores.
But his civic instincts have become an awkward fit with his role as a business executive. Schultz’s last gambit, opening up a conversation about race within Starbucks and in the stores, did not go over well. That is a conversation that properly belongs in the public square, as in, led by our elected leaders. You may not want racial politics with your latte, as much as you may love social justice.
Like a lot of good politicians, Schultz’s passion to do good and his personal ambition drive him in equal measure.
I hope he runs. Widening the field would force a more thorough vetting of Clinton, which can only be healthy for a democracy badly in need of a thoughtful, capable executive leader.
And anything — really, anything — to get us away from Donald Trump.