In an interview Sunday evening with The Seattle Times, Schultz accused Republican and Democratic politicians of caring more about "revenge politics" than problem solving.
Howard Schultz’s announcement of a potential presidential candidacy prompted a swell of public backlash Monday from Democratic operatives, fellow business moguls and fans of the departed Seattle SuperSonics — and a taunt from President Donald Trump.
Schultz, the billionaire and former Starbucks CEO, launched his proto-campaign with a 60 Minutes segment in which the self-described lifelong Democrat said he’s “strongly considering” a 2020 run as an independent.
In an interview Sunday evening with The Seattle Times, Schultz accused Republican and Democratic politicians of caring more about “revenge politics” than problem solving, and he said “as a result of that I strongly believe we are living in a time that demands a re-imagining of our current political system.”
Trump seemed to goad Schultz to join the 2020 race, writing in a tweet Monday morning that Schultz “doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to run for President!” He also insulted Schultz’s intelligence and added he hopes Starbucks “is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower!”
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Schultz’s aspirations were met with hostility by Democrats, with David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeting if he does run as an independent, Trump “should give Starbucks their Trump Tower space rent free! It would be a gift.”
The leader of a powerful Democratic aligned super PAC vowed to The Associated Press to go on the offensive if the coffee magnate follows through on his plans.
“If Schultz entered the race as an independent, we would consider him a target … We would do everything we can to ensure that his candidacy is unsuccessful,” Patrick McHugh, executive director of Priorities USA, told the AP. The group spent nearly $200 million in the 2016 presidential race, much of it backing Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In the Seattle area, progressive Indivisible activists plan to hold a “pick a party” protest at Schultz’s scheduled appearance at the Moore Theatre on Thursday to promote his new autobiography.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another billionaire who has considered a presidential run, also weighed in with a statement.
Saying he’s “never been a partisan guy,” Bloomberg, a former Republican who switched his affiliation to Democrat, said he’d looked at an independent bid himself but found clear data that it cannot succeed.
“In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up re-electing the president. That’s a risk I refused to run in 2016 and we can’t afford to run it now,” he said.
In The Times interview, Schultz rejected such criticisms, saying that he’s not running to be a spoiler and that “nobody wants to see Donald Trump removed from office more than me.” He argued Democrats could secure the president’s re-election by nominating a too-liberal candidate.
Schultz did not lay out a detailed platform of policy positions in his initial set of interviews. But he criticized Trump, calling him unfit for office and blaming him in The Times interview for the federal-government shutdown over “the ridiculous insanity” of a proposed border wall.
In the past, Schultz has criticized Democrats for big-spending proposals such as single-payer health care and free college. In the Sunday interview he called the $22 trillion national debt a major issue and “a demonstration of immoral, reckless irresponsibility” of both parties in Congress.
Schultz didn’t outline specific tax increases or major spending cuts to reduce the debt, saying he would look to eliminate wasteful spending and hope to grow the economy at a rate greater than 4 percent annually. He said comprehensive immigration reform, which has eluded presidents of both parties, could be “a catalyst for growth.”
Asked whether he supported raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour like Seattle, Schultz said “that should be a state issue … I would leave that up to the states.” The federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 an hour and has not increased since 2009, though many states and cities have adopted higher wage floors.
Schultz found some defenders, including leaders of the centrist political group Unite America, who wrote an Op-Ed for The Washington Post titled “Run, Howard, Run!”
In that piece, the group’s executive director Nick Troiano and its co-founder, Dartmouth College lecturer Charlie Wheelan, argued critics “catastrophizing” about Schultz are being unfair.
“These early attempts to suppress a candidate because of his political independence are at best anti-democratic and at worst a new kind of political bigotry. Schultz deserves a chance to make his case, and our country would be better for it. Furthermore, he could win,” they wrote.
Schultz received no such sympathy from Seattle sports fans, who reacted with renewed anger at his belated public apology for his leading role in sending the franchise to Oklahoma City.
In his new autobiography, “From The Ground UP: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America,” Schultz said he’s sorry for selling the team in 2006 after failing to secure taxpayer funding for a new or renovated arena, calling it “one of the biggest regrets of my professional life.”
But on social media, the overwhelming reaction from Sonics fans was clear: apology not accepted.
Adam Brown, a producer of the independent film “Sonicsgate,” which chronicled the team’s departure, said some apology is better than nothing.
But overall, Brown said, the long-awaited apology did not seem sincere.
“After a decade of avoiding the question and refusing to take any culpability or responsibility for his actions, this type of apology on the doorstep of a potential presidential run just reeks of disingenuousness and self-serving public relations,” he said.
Schultz told the online news site Axios that he knew he’d face a lot of heat and even hatred, particularly from Democrats, for his independent candidacy. But he dismissed much of it as driven by social media.
“I’m not considering this to win the Twitter primary,” he told Axios. “I believe that lifelong Democrats and lifelong Republicans are looking for a home, and they’re not spending hours and hours on Twitter.”