Take Howard Schultz seriously: ignore him

Let’s learn from our mistakes


Gage Skidmore/Flickr

By Edridge D'Souza, Collegian Columnist

Ever since former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced his intention to run for president, he has succeeded in the difficult task of getting the left and right to agree on something: virtually nobody wants him to be president. Critics from the left fear that he will divide the anti-Trump vote, spoiling the election in Trump’s favor. Opponents from the right will naturally put down anybody who isn’t Donald Trump. Yet, for some reason, Schultz’s statements consistently make headlines now. Positioning himself as an independent alternative to the two major parties, his entire appeal is based on the false notion that both sides of this race are equally culpable for this administration’s historic unpopularity.

The Onion, as always, captured it perfectly in its headline, “Howard Schultz Considering Independent Presidential Run After Finding No Initial Support Among Any Voter Groups.” His right-wing stances on economics and immigration aren’t hard enough to cut meaningfully into the Trump base, and his left-wing stances on social issues ring hollow to Democrat voters who are frustrated with inexperienced billionaires believing they’re entitled to run the free world.

And yet, it’s important not to write Schultz off as a joke candidate. After all, the entire news media did that to Trump in the 2016 election cycle. As a result, the focus on his personality and controversial statements got more media coverage than his actual policy proposals, which were admittedly weak.

To learn from the mistakes of the past, the public needs to take Schultz seriously, and that means ignoring him. There are legitimate criticisms one can make regarding his potential to spoil the election, his out-of-touch mentality or even the public ridicule he faced during his tenure as the CEO of Starbucks. However, focusing just on his policy issues, it’s clear that Schultz has no real game plan and shouldn’t be given the same coverage that is given to “real” candidates.

At a CNN town hall, Schultz made it clear that he has no shortage of criticism for what he perceives to be the extremes of the right and left. Yet, he doesn’t seem to have any actual solutions, or even any original ideas of his own. When asked about how high he would go in his proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy, all he could come up with was, “I don’t know what the number is.” Schultz seems to think that a populist strategy merely means criticizing everybody around him indiscriminately while lacking an actual message besides “I’m not them.”

A closer look at Schultz’ actual policy statements in an interview with CNBC reveals a similar lack of substance. For virtually all subjects, his argument boils down to “Things are bad because of bad leadership, and we need good leadership to make them good again.”

Railing on the nameless, faceless elites is a tried-and-true political strategy but for it to work, it requires that he actually give a solution. It’s unclear whether his fix for any given problem will be closer to Democratic or Republican ideology, but that’s not what’s important. All Schultz cares is that people know he’s angry about something.

Schultz’s candidacy is simply as tone-deaf as the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad. It’s honestly unclear whether even he sees himself as a serious candidate. Maybe he’s just doing this for self-promotion. Regardless, it’s time to take his campaign seriously by scrutinizing his actual policies. The media seems prey to a certain bias that, because he has more spending potential, he must therefore be more serious, or at least serious enough to give attention in interviews and town halls.

One of the biggest criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign was that her messaging largely centered around the fact that she wasn’t Trump, rather than emphasizing a core message to unify and energize voters. Schultz’s game plan is apparently to take this losing strategy and dial it up to 11. In a nutshell, he’s against everything but for absolutely nothing.

So, should we take him seriously? Absolutely. Taking him seriously means actually examining his actions rather than just his words. As a result, applying the faintest bit of scrutiny reveals just how weak of a candidate he really is. In a political climate where style is increasingly becoming more important than substance, Schultz has neither.

Edridge D’Souza is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]