Not-yet-announced-but-almost-certain-to-run-as-an-independent-presidential-candidate Howard Schultz shared a town hall stage with CNN’s Poppy Harlow in Houston on Tuesday night, fielding questions from voters about his time as the founder of Starbucks, his views on issues like taxes and health care and whether he would keep running if it looked liked he might hand President Donald Trump a second term.
It was, by turns, weird, awkward and difficult to watch – at the same time, oddly, being hard to turn away from, sort of like when you see someone slip on a banana peel and can’t help but watch the inevitable fall that ensues. He criticized both parties for their extremism but offered almost no solutions of his own. He tried to paint himself as a straight-talker but repeatedly equivocated and deflected when asked hard questions.
Not, uh, good. Don’t believe me? Check out some of these klunkers offered up by Schultz on Tuesday.
1. “My business experience is not qualification to run for president.”
His business experience running a massive international company is literally his only qualification for running for president. If Howard Schultz had not started Starbucks and built it into what it is now, he wouldn’t have ANY case to make that he could effectively run the country. He also wouldn’t have the hundreds of millions in personal money to spend on an independent candidacy to make himself viable.
2. “The question about immigration today, for me, is not a question about the wall, it’s not a question about ICE, it’s not even a question about the Dreamers and the 11 to 12 million people who are here unauthorized. It’s a question about humanity.”
This sounds good, right? We need to remember our common humanity in all facets of public life. I agree! But, our common humanity is not a policy position. Not even close. The reason that solving our immigration problems have proved so difficult is that there are credible and serious arguments on both sides – and no one has yet been able to thread the needle with a policy solution. Remembering that we are talking about human beings here is a good place to start. But it’s far from a policy. And Schultz offered nothing more.
3. “Let’s not just throw stuff against a wall because it’s a good slogan or we get a press release. Let’s be truthful.”
This was Schultz’s answer to how he would address climate change. He went on an extended attack on the “Green New Deal” and how it won’t work. Which is a fine point to make! But it’s not an answer to how you plan to address the warming of the planet. Time and again in this town hall, Schultz answered policy questions by condemning the “extreme” right and left. But condemning one party or the other (or both) isn’t a policy.
4. “I think what I’m saying is, we need comprehensive tax reform.”
Like, no duh. But every president for the last, well, forever, has said we need to transform and overhaul the too complicated tax code. WHAT would you do? And even on a simple question like what the top tax rate should be on individuals – a sort of sine qua non of saying you want to overhaul the tax code, Schultz had zero answers – other than to say that the tax rate proposed by some liberals is too high. “I think is what being proposed at 70% is a punitive number,” Schultz told Harlow. “And I think there are better ways to do this.” LIKE WHAT?
5. “First off, the issue of being a spoiler, how can you spoil a system that is already broken? It’s just not working? So it’s not – it’s not a – it’s not the right word.”
How can you spoil milk that’s already spoiled! So, so deep. But by trying to go philosophical here, Schultz is purposely avoiding the central question: As a lifelong Democrat, would you get out of the race in the fall of 2020 if polling demonstrated you could hand Donald Trump a second term? When pressed on this by Harlow, Schultz simply kept repeating that he wouldn’t run if he didn’t think he could win. Which is, of course, not answering the question.
6. “It’s a lot less about me than giving the American people a voice that they don’t have.”
7. “If I run for president, one of the first things I would do is I would visit every world leader that this president has damaged in terms of our relationship and restore the trust and confidence in America, because we need them to go forward to establish America’s leadership, economically and in the world order today.”
This makes for a decent sound bite, but can you imagine Schultz traveling to meet with a slew of world leaders as just a candidate for president? It would be a major break in protocol with the president sitting in the White House.
8. “Well, I think we’re getting way premature.”
This was Schultz’s response to Harlow’s question of whether he would sell his shares in Starbucks if he runs for president. It also came after a long-winded answer about how important transparency is – and how Trump has trampled all over it. So transparency is good in theory, but doesn’t necessarily need to apply to Schultz? The mind boggles.
9. “I think the best way to say that is that I will do nothing whatsoever to have any conflict of interest between my investments overall or my interest in the company that I love, because I will put the role and responsibility and the accountability for results first, if I run for president and I’m fortunate enough to win. And that is a promise I make to the American people.”
Shorter Schultz on potential conflicts of interest: Just trust me. I’ve got this. Uh huh.
10. “I will fix the VA, because it’s about leadership, it’s about character, and it’s also about the temperament of humility to listen to people who are smarter than you, who have more experience than you, to help solve this problem.”
I know I sound like a broken record, but leadership isn’t a policy solution. Neither is a “temperament of humility.” These are just words. Words that a lot of, uh, politicians have said for eons. If my wife asks me how I am going to fix the broken garage door and I say “it’s about leadership, it’s about character, and it’s also about the temperament of humility,” the damn garage door still isn’t fixed.
11. “I would just say, as somebody who grew up in a very diverse background as a young boy in the projects, I didn’t see color as a young boy, and I honestly don’t see color now.”
This is BY FAR his worst answer of the night. The way in which we will address systemic racial issues – not to mention issues of gender, etc. – is not to suggest that they don’t exist. But rather to acknowledge that we come from disparate backgrounds and experience life in different ways – and that we need to understand that before we start making hard and fast judgments about people and groups. Either that or just elect a guy who from a very young age has never seen color.
12. “I think this gives me another opportunity to talk about the extreme left and the extreme right.”
This was in response to a question about Schultz’s policy proposals to address issues in the health care system. And in case you are wondering, he didn’t offer any specifics of how he would go about it. But politics are broken! And the extreme right and left are to blame!
13. “The far right, once again, doesn’t want to do anything on this issue. And the far left wants to do everything possible to remove guns completely. I am in the middle. I am a centrist. And I think there’s a sensible approach to this.”
But what is it??? Schultz didn’t say.