Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has officially bowed out of the 2020 presidential race, saying while he remains frustrated with the two-party political system, he’s not willing to risk an independent candidacy that could divide the vote and help President Donald Trump win reelection.
Schultz had been publicly mulling a presidential bid since January, saying the Democratic and Republican parties are dominated by extreme voices, leaving millions of Americans looking for a moderate alternative.
While arguing that Trump is unfit for office, Schultz has contended that Democrats risk handing the president a second term by nominating a candidate advocating policies that run too far to the left.
Schultz’s exploratory effort, which included a national book tour, failed to gain much traction. He faced a backlash, particularly among Democrats, who portrayed the Seattle billionaire’s ambitions as an egotistical, election-spoiling exercise that would only benefit Trump.
Locally, he faced renewed criticism over his central role in losing the Seattle Sonics NBA team to Oklahoma City, and his failure to vote in many local elections.
In a letter to supporters Friday, Schultz acknowledged that his independent candidacy could have benefited Trump — while also blaming a divisive political climate for torpedoing his chances.
“Statistically and anecdotally, there is an undeniable appetite for meaningful political reform in America. I had hoped to represent this common-sense view,” Schultz wrote in the letter posted on his website. But, he said, “extreme voices currently dominate the national dialogue, often with a vitriol that crowds out and discourages thoughtful discussions.”
Schultz would have had to take steps early to appear on the ballots in 50 states — well before the Democratic nominee is known, whether it’s former Vice President Joe Biden, or more liberal candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Schultz cited that timing issue — which had been apparent even as he launched his exploratory bid — in his letter to supporters: “If I went forward, there is a risk that my name would appear on ballots even if a moderate Democrat wins the nomination, and that is not a risk I am willing to take.”
In his announcement Friday, Schultz did not say he would support the eventual Democratic nominee. Instead, he said he’d devote the millions of dollars he’d planned to spend on his own candidacy to “people, organizations and ideas that promote honesty, civility and results in our politics, and that move the country beyond two-party gridlock.”
Among those early efforts, Schultz said, would be to advocate for “increased national service opportunities for young people.”
A Schultz spokeswoman said he was not available for media interviews Friday.
Tina Podlodowski, chair of the state Democratic Party, who had harshly criticized Schultz’s potential independent candidacy, invited Schultz to join Democrats. “I really hope he’ll have coffee with us now … could be such a great help to so many good candidates. How about it @HowardSchultz?” she wrote on Twitter.
After spending the first few months of the year traveling the country to gauge support, Schultz had suspended his proto-campaign in June, saying three back surgeries made it impossible to continue his travel schedule. He laid off his political staff at the time and said he’d consider his options after Labor Day.
In his letter Friday, Schultz urged Americans not to become “hopeless or complacent” and to work toward “a less divisive America … where disagreement is followed by compromise, extremes are tempered by moderation, and divisiveness is eclipsed by decency.”