Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Annual Meeting of Shareholders in Seattle, Washington on March 22, 2017.  / AFP PHOTO / Jason Redmond        (Photo credit should read JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images)
JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images
Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Annual Meeting of Shareholders in Seattle, Washington on March 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jason Redmond (Photo credit should read JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:43
Former Starbucks CEO considering 2020 run as independent
CNN
Now playing
01:12
Tapper asks Buttigieg for infrastructure plan timeline
Now playing
02:48
GOP governor calls Trump's RNC remarks 'divisive'
WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 19, 2018:  The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Judicial Branch of government. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 19, 2018: The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Judicial Branch of government. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:39
SCOTUS blocks California Covid restriction on religious activities
rep jim clyburn georgia voting law jim crow sot sotu vpx_00000000.png
rep jim clyburn georgia voting law jim crow sot sotu vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
02:13
Rep. Clyburn blasts GA voting law: It's the 'new Jim Crow'
Joe Manchin
CNN
Joe Manchin
Now playing
02:03
'I never thought in my life ...' Why Manchin won't walk away from bipartisanship
Gaetz speaks to members of the media outside the hearing Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, testifies at before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at Rayburn House Office Building February 27, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Gaetz speaks to members of the media outside the hearing Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, testifies at before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at Rayburn House Office Building February 27, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.
Now playing
06:11
'Bombastic, antagonistic, unapologetic': A look at Gaetz's political career
Former House Speaker John Boehner attends a ceremony to unveil a portrait of himself on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 in Washington.
Michael A. McCoy/AP
Former House Speaker John Boehner attends a ceremony to unveil a portrait of himself on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 in Washington.
Now playing
02:42
Boehner says Republican colleague held 10-inch knife to his throat outside House floor
President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaks about gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden at the White House, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik/AP
President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaks about gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden at the White House, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Washington.
Now playing
02:05
Biden calls for ban on assault weapons
CNN
Now playing
02:22
Biden: High-speed internet is infrastructure
AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
03:24
Donald Trump breaks his silence on Matt Gaetz
CNN/WLOX
Now playing
01:43
'He says the quiet part out loud': Borger reacts to GOP election official's remark
AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:30
Haberman: Trump had to be talked out of defending Matt Gaetz
CNN
Now playing
03:26
Georgia's Lt. governor says elections law was a result of Trump's misinformation
Now playing
02:38
GOP lawmakers can't give examples of why states need anti-transgender sports bills
CNN
Now playing
03:04
Avlon reacts to McConnell's advice to corporations

Editor’s Note: Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer are history professors at Princeton University and the authors of the new book “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion at CNN.

(CNN) —  

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is thinking about running for president on an independent ticket. Even though he has been a lifelong Democrat, Schultz now insists that the party has become too radical. During an interview with “60 Minutes,” he said he is considering running a campaign as a “centrist independent, outside of the two-party system.”

Although the announcement conjures instant jokes about a campaign promising a “vanilla latte in every cup,” this potential run could have serious consequences for the future of the nation. By entering the race, Schultz could emerge as a savior that the struggling President Donald Trump and the GOP have been desperately waiting for. Drawing on his own personal fortune, he will have the resources to mount a serious campaign and to blast his message over the airwaves and on your cell phone.

And he could easily pose a serious problem to a Democratic candidate seeking to secure every vote possible in the crucial purple states.

The odds of Schultz winning the presidency are incredibly long. In our strong two-party system, third-party candidates don’t really have a chance, especially now that our politics are more polarized than ever.

As we have argued in our new book “Fault Lines,” the two major political parties have a built-in advantage given the institutional resources they command and the strong attachment that voters have to their partisan identification.

While both parties used to win landslide victories with some frequency – Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984 – in recent decades the parties have become much more evenly matched and the elections much more closely contested.

In the modern age, presidential races have increasingly hinged on small numbers of voters in a handful of states. As a result, presidential campaigns have centered on the ability of parties to turn out the vote. As we saw in 2016, shifts in even a sliver of the electorate can determine that outcome.

For many Democrats, a potential Schultz campaign calls to mind the Green Party candidacy of consumer advocate and political reformer Ralph Nader in the 2000 election. With self-righteous fervor, Nader complained that the Democrats were no different from the GOP. Both parties, he argued, had sold themselves out to corporate money and were under the control of K Street interest groups. Neither one, according to Nader, cared about average Americans.

Nader’s run helped cost Democrats the election. Vice President Al Gore defeated Texas Governor George Bush by about 540,000 ballots in the popular vote, but the Electoral College outcome proved too close to call on election night. With Gore claiming 267 electoral votes and Bush having 246, the undecided state of Florida became the final battleground.

After a heated battle over the recount process, culminating with the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision, Bush ended up winning the state by about 537 votes. Meanwhile, Nader took more than 97,000 votes in the state. It’s impossible to know if all of Nader’s voters would have gone to the polls without his candidacy or how they all would have voted, but it seems more than likely that enough of them would have gone to Gore and put the Democrats over the top, both in Florida and in the nation.

Schultz could easily play the same spoiler role in 2020. To be sure, there’s a chance some Republicans peel off from the GOP to vote for Schultz in protest against their own party. Nate Silver, for instance, has argued that Schultz could end up drawing votes from both parties like Ross Perot. Or, some think he might replicate the 1980 campaign of John Anderson, a Republican congressman who ran for president as an independent and drew votes from both parties.

But given how pronounced Republican partisan loyalty has proven in the ensuing decades, it would be difficult for a former Democrat who holds some liberal positions on issues like climate change and same-sex marriage to attract Republican voters. Moderate Democrats, meanwhile, would be untroubled by these social stances and perhaps drawn to Schultz’s message of fiscal responsibility and deficit cutting. This is a third-party campaign that will, like Nader, draw many more votes from one party than the other.

If Schultz’s goal is breaking free of the polarized politics of the Trump presidency, he should understand that his independent candidacy could wind up prolonging it. If the President were to win re-election in a cluttered campaign field, he and his party would surely take it as a sign of re-affirmation and double down on a radical agenda that would advance a number of right-wing proposals that Schultz claims to oppose.

Get our free weekly newsletter

If Schultz’s goal is also to improve the quality of how our democracy functions so that the parties do what is “necessary on behalf of the American people,” then he should deal with the underlying processes instead of helping to secure a second term for President Trump.

Instead of wasting his money on what would be a vanity campaign at best and a contribution in kind to the Republicans at worst, Schultz should consider wiser ways to use his ample fortune: promoting access to the ballot for disaffected voters; providing contributions to other candidates at the federal, state and local levels; and working to support redistricting reform so that House districts are not so solidly red or blue.

In tackling those issues, Howard Schultz wouldn’t necessarily see his name on the 2020 ballot. But his presence in that election would be more profoundly felt.