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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.