Let's see how Howard Schultz, who is considering running for president as an independent, changes the campaign and the national conversation.
Howard Schultz is seriously thinking of running for president as a centrist independent. Pundits, journalists and especially Democrats are shocked, but those of us active in the centrist independent movement have seen it coming for a while now.
The truth is a tectonic shift is occurring in American politics that threatens our current two-party system. The potential Schultz candidacy isn’t happening in a vacuum; it is happening because the center is falling, gridlock is perpetual, politics has become tribal, and more and more Americans are becoming estranged from both major parties.
This isn’t complicated. Both parties have abandoned long-held centrist positions and are moving toward their respective fringes. The number of Americans calling themselves independent is at an all-time high. A yawning gap is opening in the center of our politics, and people and organizations are moving to fill it.
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The Republican Party has completed the transformation from the party of Reagan/Bush/Bush/and McCain and is now the party of Trump, or, more accurately, the party of Pat Buchanan. The nativist, protectionist, isolationist populism of Trump is not new. For decades, many in the conservative movement wanted the GOP to embrace issues based on culture and values, rather than economics and national security, but they were never in charge. Now they are. Reaganism died in the election of 2016.
While the Rs move right, the Ds are moving left. The loudest voices in the party, and all the candidates for president thus far, support single-payer health care and have opposed free-trade deals. Democrats are now talking about taking tax rates back up to pre-Reagan levels, dramatically expanding government and attacking the business community. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell — would be considered too moderate, too “corporate” to run for president in 2020.
Action causes reaction. Today there is a growing movement to create a centrist alternative to our broken two-party system. This movement is made up of many groups and organizations. Unite America, the SAM Party, No Labels, Fix Us and the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers. Here at home, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Baird and I co-chair Washington Independents, a political action committee to support independent centrist candidates.
Nationwide, this movement is made up of activists, intellectuals, former elected officials and political operatives. And now it potentially has a national campaign to organize around — a national campaign with resources that has already retained top-tier political talent from both parties. This is how political parties are formed.
Howard Schultz did not come out of this movement. He has not said he wants to create a new party, and none of the major centrist groups have yet endorsed him. But he is speaking our language. He is talking about how both parties have adopted extreme positions and refuse to compromise. And he is passionate about the need to bring down our debt and protect Social Security and Medicare from insolvency, something neither party seems to care about.
It is too soon to make firm predictions about 2020. But what is certain is that we are now in a period of change.
Our party system is not set in stone. In the 1820s, the Federalist party collapsed and the Whigs eventually took their place. In the 1850s, the slavery issue destroyed the Whigs, transformed the Democrats into a sectional party and created the Republican Party. The Republican Party split in 1912, as Teddy Roosevelt led moderates out of it to create the Progressive Party. And although the names have remained the same, the regional and philosophical makeup of the Republican and Democratic parties has been turned upside down since the 1960s.
The only thing constant in politics is change.
Republicans are moving right. Democrats are moving left. Into the gap steps Howard Schultz. Let’s see what happens next.