Democrats are begging Howard Schultz not to run for office - and threatening a Starbucks boycott if he does

Howard SchultzHoward Schultz, then-executive chairman of Starbucks Corporation, speaks at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC in May 2018.Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Starbucks' former CEO Howard Schultz has infuriated the political left by announcing he'll run for president as a "centrist independent" in 2020. 
  • Democrats are voicing loud opposition to the billionaire fiscal conservative, who they believe could spoil the future Democratic nominee's chances of beating President Donald Trump in the general election. 
  • "This is a rich man's fantasy that will turn out to be nothing more than a massive in-kind contribution to Donald Trump's re-election campaign," said Ian Russell, a Democratic congressional strategist. 
  • Some Democrats say they'll support a boycott of Starbucks if Schultz moves forward with his bid. 

After years of pushing progressive policies, Starbucks former CEO Howard Schultz has infuriated the left. 

His crime: considering running for president as an independent. 

After the billionaire executive announced he's exploring a run as a "centrist independent" in 2020, Democrats are voicing loud and near-unanimous opposition to the move. They say Schultz would siphon off anti-Trump voters the future Democratic nominee will need, acting as a spoiler much like independents Ross Perot and Ralph Nader did in 1992 and 2000. 

"I take him at his word that he's well-intentioned, but this is a rich man's fantasy that will turn out to be nothing more than a massive in-kind contribution to Donald Trump's re-election campaign," Ian Russell, a Democratic congressional strategist, told Business Insider. "There simply isn't a path for an independent. All the money in the world can't change the laws of political physics."

Russell added that he doesn't know anyone working in Democratic politics who would dare support Schultz's bid, given the liabilities. 

"The stakes are so high in this election and defeating Trump must be an all-hands-on-deck united front," Adrienne Elrod, Hillary Clinton's 2016 director of strategic communications, told Business Insider.

Read more: Trump slams Howard Schultz after the ex-Starbucks CEO announces he's considering running for president

Many Democrats are slamming Schultz's bid as a doomed "vanity project" and will likely escalate pressure on Schultz to drop the idea. 

"He's going to have to look in the mirror one day and decide if he wants to be part of the solution or part of the problem," Jesse Ferguson, a former top spokesman for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, told Business Insider. "While the American people aren't thrilled with a two-party system, they're even less excited about this kind of party of one." 

#BoycottStarbucks

The potential punishment goes beyond Schultz. Some on the left are threatening to boycott Starbucks if the former CEO runs for president. 

"Vanity projects that help destroy democracy are disgusting," tweeted Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

"If he enters the race, I will start a Starbucks boycott because I'm not giving a penny that will end up in the election coffers of a guy who will help Trump win," Tanden continued. 

Other Democrats are slightly more optimistic that the Democratic nominee could prevail even with a self-funded independent in the race.

Basil Smilke, former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, said Schultz should run "if he feels compelled to." 

"In a close race, yes he could be a spoiler, but I don't think the winner of 2020 will be victorious by a razor-thin margin," Smilke told Business Insider. 

Elrod said a boycott of her morning coffee is a "silly" idea. But, others seem to disagree. 

Representatives for Starbucks did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment. 

Schultz told the news website Axios that he was not worried about backlash. "I'm not considering this to win the Twitter primary," he said. "I believe that lifelong Democrats and lifelong Republicans are looking for a home, and they're not spending hours and hours on Twitter."

In a series of interviews on Sunday, Schultz outlined his positions on key issues, including healthcare, education, and the national debt. His fiscal conservatism - he supports cutting government spending on the social safety net - will likely put him at odds with every Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. 

In an interview with The New York Times, he called Democratic promises of single-payer healthcare, also known as Medicare for All, "as false as" Trump's pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. 

"When I hear people espousing free government-paid college, free government-paid health care and a free government job for everyone - on top of a $21 trillion debt - the question is, how are we paying for all this and not bankrupting the country?" Schultz told the Times.

Schultz's longstanding concern with the country's debt - which he called the "greatest threat domestically to the country" - might also set him apart from Trump and the GOP, which largely dropped its concern over the deficit after it passed the 2017 tax cuts. (The cuts are expected to add $1.8 trillion to national debt over the next decade.) 

While Schultz left Starbucks in 2018, he still owns more than 37.7 million shares - or roughly 3% - of the company's stock. In 2018, Schultz's salary at Starbucks was $1 and he received $30.1 million in total compensation from the company, including stock and options awarded.

Equity research platform Sentieo reported on Monday morning that the calls for boycott are accelerating on Twitter but are still small compared to the chain's past boycott threats. 

However, a boycott does not need to substantially impact sales to get results.

For example, movements to boycott Starbucks after alleged racial profiling and "red cups" controversies did not significantly impact the stock price or global comparable sales, according to Sentieo. Yet, in 2018, Starbucks closed US stores for hours to retrain employees and changed bathroom policies following backlash regarding alleged racial profiling. 

Democrats rallying against Starbucks may not significantly hurt sales. But, it could damage Starbucks' reputation - and, perhaps, convince Schultz not to run. 

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