Howard Schultz, probable presidential candidate, actual billionaire, enjoyed a peaceful, encouraging Friday visit to Colorado Springs.
He ate lunch with cadets at the Air Force Academy and toured the spectacular chapel. He walked through the Olympic Training Center, stopping to shake hands and talk with Olympic hopefuls.
He calls his Springs day “a most extraordinary American experience that has filled me up with … emotion and aspiration and pride of country.”
Not every day has been so fun since he announced in January he was considering a run at the presidency. The man who built Starbucks into an international craze has endured a flurry of doubts and hassles.
He was asked on NBC’s “Morning Joe” if he knew how much a box of Cheerios would cost. Schultz said he didn’t know.
He was described in the Washington Post as “mild as oatmeal.”
His voting bloc? “A ghost town,” answered The National Review. In other words, nobody.
“Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire,” shouted a New York nonsupporter, who used an expletive to modify billionaire. I’ll let you guess which expletive.
Schultz was serene when asked about the avalanche of criticism. He hasn’t decided if he will run for president. That decision will be made, he says, with the aid of his children and wife this summer. His third-party bid remains hazy.
This is clear: Howard Schultz believes Howard Schultz would make a superb president.
After his tour of the OTC, he sits for a few minutes in the dining room, where he talks in a steady, quiet voice. He wears a red Olympic warm-up suit that he soon will trade for a sport coat.
He considered the storm of criticism, he says, but on his seven-week tour of America he’s been lifted by strong, consistent encouragement.
“The response is overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “Everywhere I’ve gone, what I hear and what I see is a group of American people, small and large, agreeing with me that the two-party system in the U.S. government is not working for them, for their family, for the American people.”
At town halls, Schultz asks members of the audience to raise hands if “you think the government is working for you and your family.”
Without fail, he says, no hands are raised.
“There’s a cloud hanging over the country,” he says. “The cloud is the incitement and the fear and the bigotry and the hate that has come out of the Oval Office, and the lack of cooperation and civility that we witness every day as Americans coming from both parties.”
Schultz sounds similar to a Democrat in this way: He’s an intense critic of Donald J. Trump.
“This is a person who has done more damage to the values, the stability, the level of respect, grace, dignity to the Oval Office and to the character of the nation,” Schultz says. “This is a time when I think the country is on the clock … We have been given an enormous gift in America, and it’s a privilege. It’s not an entitlement. We have to earn it.
“And I think right now the reason that I’m strongly considering running for president as a centrist and an independent is because I reached the definite conclusion that the two-party system is dysfunctional, it’s corrupt and there’s nothing about it that is going to significantly change, regardless of who is in charge.”
The history of third-party candidates fails to offer encouragement to Schultz. In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt ran for the wonderfully named Bull Moose Party and bested the incumbent president, his former friend William Howard Taft. But Roosevelt lost to Woodrow Wilson.
George Wallace caused a massive stir in 1968 but collected only 46 electoral votes. Ross Perot defied the two-party system to collect 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992, but claimed no electoral votes.
The message seems clear: A third-party candidate can gain attention and alter the course of an election, but a third-party candidate can’t win.
Schultz is unfazed.
“This is a moment in time when I think it’s our time to stand up and not be a bystander,” Schultz says, sounding very much like a presidential candidate and very little like a realist.