Is There a Democratic Donald?


President Starbucks?Howard Headshot - Book Photo - Fall 2010

Potent friends of America’s lord of latte, Howard Schultz, have been pressing him to join the Democratic primary, thinking the time is right for someone who’s not a political lifer. For the passionate 62-year-old — watching the circus from Seattle — it may be a tempting proposition […] After coming up from the housing projects in Brooklyn, Schultz reimagined Starbucks and then revived it. He has strong opinions, and even position papers, about what he calls the fraying American dream. While he was promoting his book on veterans last year, he honed a message about making government work again and finding “authentic, truthful leadership.”

That was from Maureen Dowd, so take it with a pound of salt. It’s unlikely that Schultz will be putting down his caramel macchiato anytime soon. Politics isn’t business. While both fields attract similar Type A personalities, their basic MOs are radically different.

Politics is a word game. Tell a convincing-enough story and you win. No matter how convincing a pitch in business, it’s the numbers that ultimately rule. In other words, politicians are held accountable for what they say; business leaders are held accountable for what they do. This is why so many executives and entrepreneurs who run for office quickly talk their way out of politics.

The idea of a Howard Schultz candidacy brings up an interesting idea: Is there a candidate with serious business credentials who can challenge Hillary for the Democratic nomination? A less crazy version of Donald Trump who can take up Bill Clinton’s New Democrat mantle and win in 2016?

If such a candidate exists they have yet to emerge. Bernie Sanders is the non-shrieking Howard Dean of the 2016 cycle. America’s oldest socialist Senator isn’t going to be the Democratic nominee. He’s a colorful safety valve for a Democrat base that is sickened by the deep cynicism of the Clintonistas. There simply aren’t enough of these voters to seriously challenge Hillary’s front runner status. Sanders inherent looniness also acts as money repellent which limits him from seriously campaigning past the fall of 2015.

If there is a Democratic Donald, he or she is either on the sidelines or hiding in the woodwork of corporate America. The sort of individuals who lack Trump’s flair or Hillary’s ruthless ambition, but who could with a bit of coaching become credible threats. Here are some possibilities:

  • Michael Bloomberg – Lord knows he’s got the money and the ambition. It’s an open question whether a politician so lacking in charisma can win nationally. Then there’s that peevish nannying manner of his that irritates both liberals and conservatives. The 73 year old billionaire is only a few years older than Hillary and seems fit enough for a long campaign. His presence in the Democratic field could provoke a civil war that only ends with the convention in Philadelphia.
  • Walter Robb – The co-CEO of Whole Foods isn’t anywhere near as libertarian as company founder John Mackey, and his record of contributions to Democrats suggests a strong leftward limp. He would be a classic dark horse candidate in the primaries. Yet watch this interview he gave with Duke University’s business school in 2013. With some voice and image coaching he could become a plausible candidate. The Whole Foods cache would attract support from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and elements of Wall Street. Think of a softer, kinder version of Carly Fiorina.
  • Ursula M Burns – The CEO of Xerox since 2009, Burns has the political advantage of being both black and a woman. Raised by a single mother in a New York housing project, she earned two degrees in Mechanical Engineering before snagging an internship at Xerox. The combination of backstory, identity, STEM education, and business credentials would make her a strong candidate on paper. On the downside her public speaking skills are terrible and her Democratic affiliation a bit tenuous. Her eight figure salary would also jar with hard core anti-capitalists in the party base.

Given the organizational and financial resources at Hillary Clinton’s disposal, it’s hard to imagine a successful challenger; unless she destroys herself in the next twelve months the nomination is hers. Yet it’s not an impossible scenario. She was also the presumptive frontrunner in 2008.

Overconfident of victory, the Clintonistas could begin fighting amongst themselves. Growing exhausted at the presumption of another Clinton presidency, the media could become mischievous, perhaps looking more closely at Benghazi. If the juggernaut collapses the Democratic field could become as open — and perhaps as interesting — as the Republican.

There are 6 comments.

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  1. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.

    Looking through Wikipedia’s articles of past primaries, the only candidates who had a substantial career outside of politics on the Democrats’ side since 1988 are Gen. Wesley Clark and Bill Bradley (I’m purposely leaving out Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton; they may never have been elected, but they’re unquestionably politicians).

    In contrast, Republicans seem to often have at least someone who’s adult life didn’t start with such things, even if his or her candidacy flops.

    Hardly surprisingly, though interesting.

    • #1
  2. Belt Inactive

    I question the mental health of any Democrat who is genuinely excited about the state of their primary field.

    • #2
  3. Brian McMenomy Inactive
    Brian McMenomy

    Howard Schultz is the one guy that might tilt Washington state Republican if he actually got the Dem nomination.  Anyone know why?  (KP, RushBabe, stop jumping up & down).

    That’s right.  The team now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder.  There are plenty of liberals up here that still cannot speak his name without spitting.  Just keep running ads up here with his quotes about selling the Sonics to an entity that would keep the team here, followed with B-roll of the trucks leaving town.

    • #3
  4. MarciN Member

    I’m surprised you did not include Martin O’Malley from Maryland.

    • #4
  5. J. D. Fitzpatrick Member
    J. D. Fitzpatrick

    Brian McMenomy:Howard Schultz is the one guy that might tilt Washington state Republican if he actually got the Dem nomination. Anyone know why? (KP, RushBabe, stop jumping up & down).

    That’s right. The team now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder. There are plenty of liberals up here that still cannot speak his name without spitting. Just keep running ads up here with his quotes about selling the Sonics to an entity that would keep the team here, followed with B-roll of the trucks leaving town.

    Something along the lines of, “If you like your team, you can keep it,” perhaps?

    • #5
  6. Big Ern Inactive
    Big Ern

    This is highly speculative, but I think there’s a chance Barack Obama is fishing for a third term. We all know that any time the man says something like “the law is the law,” that’s the cue for his sycophants to explore ways around it. I think there’s a scenario where the Nobel committee gives him a second Peace Prize when he commits America to the Iran agreement despite the Congressional vote. If Trump’s lead holds, there might be enough defectors from the GOP ranks to make an Amendment vote on term limits interesting.

    The Nobel committee gave him one Peace Price for nothing. They’ll most certainly give him a second, and that would be some powerfully disruptive campaign leverage. Donald-esque, if you will.

    • #6

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