In a throwback to the rhetoric of Richard Nixon, would-be independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz insisted on Twitter Monday that he’s going outside the two party system to represent a “silent majority.”
The question I think we all should be asking ourselves is: at this time in America when there's so much evidence that our political system is broken – that both parties at the extreme are not representing the silent majority of the American people – isn't there a better way? pic.twitter.com/Gy1wf1cf8F
— Howard Schultz (@HowardSchultz) January 28, 2019
The phrase has a dark history. Nixon appealed to a “silent majority” in an infamous 1969 speech as his way of rebuffing anti-war protesters and doubling down on the United States’ presence in Vietnam. (Nixon had previously intimated he had a secret plan to end the conflict.) The disastrous war continued until 1973.
At 65, Schultz lived through this history. But he’s previously written that Vietnam didn’t bother him much: “Those were mostly fun years, a time with little responsibility,” Schultz wrote in a 1999 memoir. “With a draft number of 332, I didn’t have to worry about going to Vietnam.”
The unfortunate shout-out to a disgraced president aside, there’s a factual problem with Schultz’s suggestion that a deficit-focused independent has the support of a hidden majority of Americans. In a Sunday interview with Scott Pelley 60 Minutes, Schultz said he’s broken with Democrats because they’re not focused on the $21 billion national debt.
In an interview last summer, Schultz was more specific: “It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, ‘How are we going to pay for these things,’ in terms of things like single payer [and] people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job. I don’t think that’s realistic.” Instead, Schultz said he wanted America to pursue 4 percent GDP growth before adding: “We have to go after entitlements” — a reference to the costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
So where are the American people — the majority Schultz claims to represent?
It turns out single-payer health care is a big hit with a vocal majority. In recent polling, upwards of 70 percent of Americans endorse Medicare-for-All, including, in at least one poll, a majority of Republicans.
A federal jobs guarantee is also a winner with a majority of Americans, with a recent poll finding 52 percent in favor and only 29 percent opposed.
OK, so what of Schultz’s plan to tame the debt by “going after” entitlements? In one recent poll, only 21 percent of Americans want to balance the budget chiefly by targeting “entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”
Schultz, chairman emeritus of Starbucks with a net worth of $3.4 billion, would be hit by many Democratic proposals that call for increasing taxes on the wealthiest. He insists in the Twitter video he posted that he’s embarking on a national listening tour in the coming months. Schultz would do well to heed the advice of another billionaire with similar ambitions and ideology: Michael Bloomberg.
The former New York City mayor, who himself is weighing a presidential (Democratic) bid, posted a statement to his website that is basically an extended subtweet of Schultz:
“It’s no secret that I looked at an independent bid in the past. In fact I faced exactly the same decision now facing others who are considering it.
“The data was very clear and very consistent. Given the strong pull of partisanship and the realities of the electoral college system, there is no way an independent can win… In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up re-electing the President. That’s a risk I refused to run in 2016 and we can’t afford to run it now.”