Howard Schultz’s Seinfeldesque Campaign About Nothing

Based on his appearance on CNN last night, Howard Schultz appears to be running a campaign about nothing.

Following up on a “town hall” appearance on CNN last night, Aaron Blake The Washington Post notes that the proposed campaign by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz appears to be about nothing:

At the start of the town hall CNN gave Howard Schultz on Tuesday night, anchor Poppy Harlow promised, “We’re going to talk about all the issues, because that’s what this is about.”

Unfortunately, Schultz spent the next hour studiously avoiding taking a position on much of anything.

The former Starbucks CEO and potential independent presidential candidate’s performance was almost a caricature of an independent candidate trying to say nothing except that the two major parties were doing it wrong. Harlow, to her great credit, repeatedly noted that he was skirting the questions and not talking about his own proposals.

But Schultz would not be deterred from his anodyne generalities and platitudes. The guy who recently told CNBC that he didn’t “want to talk in the hypothetical about what I would do if I was president” very much stuck to that line.

When he was asked what he would do about climate change, he almost immediately shifted to attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) “Green New Deal” as pie in the sky. “Let’s be sensible about what we’re suggesting,” he said. “Let’s not just throw stuff against a wall because it’s a good slogan or we get a press release.”

He declined, however, to offer up any of his own proposals.

On taxes, he said he was in favor of higher taxes on wealthy people like him. But how much higher? He wasn’t sure. “I don’t know what the number is,” he said twice as Harlow sought even just a “ballpark” figure. He attacked Ocasio-Cortez’s idea to tax income beyond $10 million at 70 percent as a “punitive number.” Eventually Harlow asked him “is it higher than 2 percent more, for example?” Schultz finally committed, sort of: “I think it is.”

Asked whether China was an ally or an enemy, he chose neither but attacked Trump’s trade war. Asked what his illegal immigration plan was, Schultz attacked Democrats for wanting to abolish ICE and Republicans for separating families at the border, but he committed only to a path to citizenship.

On health care, Schultz attacked Republicans for going after Obamacare and Democrats for wanting Medicare-for-all, but all he would propose is more competition, easy access to care and cheaper prescription drugs. Those are all things that people like. In fact, they’re all goals President Trump has advocated. But they’re goals, not proposals.

(…)

It’s no secret that politicians strive to avoid the questions they are asked. Taking a firm stance means potentially alienating supporters. So when you can speak in generalities about your goals and avoid proposals that might come back to bite you, you do it.

But there’s a difference between skirting really tough and divisive issues and basically having no guiding principle or message. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect Schultz to have all this stuff nailed down, given that, as he noted, he only dipped his toe in the water a few weeks ago. But you’d think he would have some sense of what he’d like to do. What we saw Tuesday night were almost purely buzzwords along with policies that he opposes.

To sign up for an hour-long CNN town hall about the issues and then not really talk about how you would address them is a pretty bad omen for a potential campaign to come.

Given the fact that Schultz is allegedly being advised by long-time campaign professionals such as Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 campaign, it’s somewhat surprising that he would agree to go on something like a CNN Town Hall that would potentially have millions of viewers both during its live run and in subsequent replays without having at least some basic answers to the policy issues facing the nation. After all, it isn’t as if the issues raised during the town hall should have come as a surprise to Schultz or his advisers. These are matters that are the subject of current and contentious debate in a number of venues. The fact that Schultz was unable to answer with anything other than vague generalities seems to demonstrate a lack of seriousness on his part and a lack of preparedness, neither of which look good in a candidate for President.

Nobody is expecting Schultz or any other Presidential candidate to be able to present detailed policy analysis in the course of a television program, of course, but answering with something other than vague generalities is an indication of an unserious campaign. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this. When Donald Trump was a candidate for President, he seldom did more than offer vague generalities to the same types of questions that Schultz was asked last night. The fact that he was unable to provide coherent responses to what amount to basic questions about policy is a strong indication that, at least at this point, his hypothetical candidacy is really rather Seinfieldesque in that it is a campaign about nothing.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    He’s like the president of the Neutral Planet in Futurama (the planet’s motto: “Live free, or don’t”)

    Some choice quotes:

    Neutral President: I have no strong feelings one way or the other.

    Neutral President: All I know is my gut says maybe.

    Neutral President: If I don’t survive, tell my wife, “Hello.”

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Unlike Ds, where the campaign talent pool must be getting stretched, Rs like Schmidt, especially given his anti-Trump stance, probably need to pick up a buck wherever they can. The pros have to know there are no actual centrist voters, but until Schultz flames out, the money’s probably good.

  3. Gustopher says:

    Asked whether China was an ally or an enemy, he chose neither but attacked Trump’s trade war.

    That actually seems spot on. The right answer was non-committal waffling.

    He just needed the rest of the questions to be like that.

  4. James Pearce says:

    CNN did a townhall with him? That’s a lot of heat for a guy no one’s supposedly interested in…

  5. grumpy realist says:

    @James Pearce: it’s called “infotainment”. Gotta feed the 24-hr news service ya know. Especially if you can get clicks/controversy/everyone watching it.

    I swear, some of these so-called “news services” would gladly bring on WWIII provided they could film it. Gotta keep those eyeballs plastered to the screen!

  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    the proposed campaign by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz appears to be about nothing

    It’s about sucking up as many non-democrats who hate Trump enough to vote for the democratic candidate anyways because he’d rather destroy the country than have his taxes go up slightly.

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  7. Facebones says:

    Once again, a gullible media is giving millions of dollars of free publicity to an unqualified vanity candidate, whose only claim to fame is that he’s a billionaire businessman.

    The irony is that Schultz actually is a successful billionaire. I still think he’s unqualified and would sooner vote for anti-gay pro-Assad loon Tulsi Gabbard.

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  8. Tyrell says:

    @Facebones: I watched some of this. His proposals for health care seem good. He should have some kind of ideas concerning new energy alternatives and technical issues such as the 5G roll out.
    He did not detail just how he would do problem solving with Congress.
    I had hoped to hear him talk some about his stores, coffee, and future plans.
    He certainly seems able to attract the middle class.

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  9. James Pearce says:

    @grumpy realist:

    it’s called “infotainment”. Gotta feed the 24-hr news service ya know. Especially if you can get clicks/controversy/everyone watching it.

    That’s my point. I think a lot of people are interested in him and that CNN is feeding that need.

    I think what’s going on here, with Schultz getting a lot of heat and Biden being the preferred top candidate despite not really entering the race, is a deep butthole-clenching fear that the Dem Senators who are running are not up to the task.

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  10. Teve says:

    W/r/t that discussion the other day about Democrats being soooooooo liberal, and the word socialism being some kind of label of death, etc:

    Yashar Ali
    Yashar Ali
    @yashar
    ·
    2h
    A sports store owner who pulled Nike gear after they announced a partnership with
    @Kaepernick7
    says his store is going out of business.

    “As much as I hate to admit this, perhaps there are more Colin Kaepernick supporters out there than I realized.”

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  11. Tyrell says:

    @Teve: I don’t think he has many SF 49er fans considering the way he messed up that team.

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  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Teve:

    “As much as I hate to admit this, perhaps there are more Colin Kaepernick supporters out there than I realized.”

    Womp, womp.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    I think a lot of people are interested in him and that CNN is feeding that need.

    Lots of people are also interested in the prime time lineup on TLC but that doesn’t mean anyone should vote for any of those people in that lineup…

    …is a deep butthole-clenching fear that the Dem Senators who are running are not up to the task.

    Umm, that’s more like your wet dream, sweetie, rather than being an actual fact…just because you have Democraticsenatorphobia doesn’t mean anyone else does…

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  14. Jax says:

    Do I get any points amongst the commentariat if I declare for Beto now? I live in the least populated county in the least populated state in the country, and the people that I know who are not die-hard Trumpies want to see more Beto. Granted, it’s not much, but it’s something….should he declare his policy points. They’re already in on the charisma.

  15. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party:

    just because you have Democraticsenatorphobia doesn’t mean anyone else does…

    Tell you what: You consider the possibility that the general public does not have the same stomach for defending Democratic politicians as the partisans do.

    And I’ll consider the possibility that I have a made up mental illness because I look unkindly on this political moment.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    You consider the possibility that the general public does not have the same stomach for defending Democratic politicians as the partisans do.

    I have a counterproposal–you consider the possibility that Trump is far weaker than you think he is…after all, around here, you act like one of his biggest partisans…

    It’s obvious why so many senators are running in the Democratic primary…before Obama, everybody talked about how presidential material came from governors, not senators…Obama proved that wrong…and even though the president appears to be strong in certain parts of flyover country, overall he’s weak…and Democrats, who smell the blood in the water, aren’t afraid of being primaried like Republican boot-lickers are…

  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    The former Starbucks CEO and potential independent presidential candidate’s performance was almost a caricature of an independent candidate trying to say nothing except that the two major parties were doing it wrong.

    Finally! A candidate that can effect the changes James Pearce aspires to! I’m all in!

    And, contrary to the view in the article, Schultz does know what he wants to do. He wants to be in charge.

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  18. Kylopod says:

    @An Interested Party: Of course the Senate has always been one of the commonest sources of future presidential candidates, even if only a rare few have won. In 2008, for example, of the 8 Democratic candidates, 6 were (current or former) Senators, 1 was a governor. Of the 12 candidates on the GOP side, 3 were Senators and 4 were governors. (Source: Wikipedia.) I think the reason we’re seeing more Senators as candidates so far in this cycle has to do mostly with the particular bench of Democratic Senators and governors. There are 47 Senators in the current Democratic caucus (including 2 indies), whereas there are only 23 Democratic governors, 11 of whom just entered office. There are 4 current or former Democratic governors who are mentioned as potential candidates, though none has entered the race yet: John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Terry McAuliffe, and Steve Bullock.

    Did Obama’s rise contribute to the proliferation of Senators seeking the presidency? Quite possibly. (I definitely think it contributed to the number of candidates who have only been in the Senate a relatively short time. You even saw this on the GOP side in 2016, where there were 3 Senators who hadn’t served longer than a single term. That was uncommon prior to 2008.) But you also need to consider that, due to the outsize attention given to what goes down in DC, the Senate offers potential for national media coverage that governors don’t enjoy nearly as much these days. Think about how Klobuchar, Harris, and Booker increased their exposure during the Kavanaugh hearings. So I think it’s possible part of the shift has to do with the role the media plays in potential candidates getting their names out there.

  19. Teve says:

    Ashley Feinberg
    Ashley Feinberg
    @ashleyfeinberg

    Have we considered that maybe Paul Manafort is like the bus in Speed and if he ever stops doing crimes he’ll explode

    6:52 PM · Feb 13, 2019 · Twitter for iPhone

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    OT (and yet, maybe, germane in a weird way): Perennial Presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche dies at 96

  21. wr says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: And the world is just a little bit better today…

  22. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party:

    you consider the possibility that Trump is far weaker than you think he is

    Trump should be weaker than he is, but he’s got savvy allies and has been blessed with having an even weaker, superficial, cannibalistic opposition.

    @Kylopod:

    So I think it’s possible part of the shift has to do with the role the media plays in potential candidates getting their names out there.

    That’s part of it, but the biggest factor is that the Senate is where the women and POC are and there’s a preference for a non “white male” at the top of the ticket.

  23. Tyrell says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: That reminded me: where is Alan Keyes? He would run just about every time. He seems like a nice guy and is experienced. Maybe he would consider the vice president spot.

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  24. Pete S says:

    Howard Schultz’s campaign is not remotely about nothing. It is about protecting his tax rate by working for Donald Trump’s re-election without openly embracing the ugly aspects of Trumpism which might crater the value of the stock he still holds in Starbucks. This is completely consistent with the way he got the SuperSonics into Oklahoma City without making the actual move himself.

  25. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Kylopod:

    Of course the Senate has always been one of the commonest sources of future presidential candidates, even if only a rare few have won.

    There were always lots of Senators. There are more Senators than governors, and a Senator from Idaho or Delaware could be a credible candidate, unlike the governor of Idaho or Delaware. Small state governors have a tough time being candidate, unlike senators of these same states.

    There were always lots of Senators in these primaries. The only difference is that Obama managed to win(and to be fair Obama did not stay much time there, and he was the only Senator since Nixon to be elected, and the only Kennedy to be directly elected as one).

    And the nationalization of politics serve Senators well. And the cynic in me point out that it’s very difficult to govern and appease activists in the parties, specially in the GOP. You have to break party orthodoxy to govern Michigan or Ohio.

    @James Pearce:

    That’s part of it, but the biggest factor is that the Senate is where the women and POC are and there’s a preference for a non “white male” at the top of the ticket.

    There are relatively very few PoC and Women on the Senate. But I do agree that some Democratic activists have a strange obsession with race(The whole debate about Kamala Harris marrying a White dude is completely ridiculous).

  26. James Pearce says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    There are relatively very few PoC and Women on the Senate.

    1 out of every 4 US senators are women, though.

    The strange obsession with race (and gender) is forcing Democrats into a place where their leading candidates are from a very small pool with very limited appeal. I’d bet that a significant portion of Kamala Harris supporters are actually supporting the idea of a “black woman in the White House” rather than, you know, Kamala Harris. This is true for a lot of the Dems running.

    Harris is almost incidental. It could be her, could be Oprah, could almost be any random non-white dude. The merits of the candidate are almost irrelevant.

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  27. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “I’d bet that a significant portion of Kamala Harris supporters are actually supporting the idea of a “black woman in the White House” rather than, you know, Kamala Harris. This is true for a lot of the Dems running.”

    Why bet when you can just read the minds of the other people on mass transit and know for sure they all agree with you?

  28. Barry says:

    Doug: ‘Given the fact that Schultz is allegedly being advised by long-time campaign professionals such as Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 campaign…’

    Which was famous for Sarah Palio, ‘bomb bomb bomb Iran…’ and McCain wanting to shut down the campaign for the Great Financial Crash.

    I listened to the first 10 minutes of Schmidt on the ‘Words Matter’ podcast (the one where he stormed off the air), and he had 100% BS and lies, starting with looking at the current political situation and concluding that *both* parties are broken.

  29. James Pearce says:

    @wr:

    Why bet when you can just read the minds of the other people on mass transit and know for sure they all agree with you?

    Continually clowning on the train people thing, eh?

    A) Do you know who rides the train in Denver? If you think any of them are white dudes who belong to Hollywood guilds, let’s just clear that up: That’s you. Not them.

    B) The point of the exercise is to imagine people who don’t agree with me, who look at things differently from me. I’m an old school liberal. Different perspectives are important to me and I am not threatened by them.

  30. Monala says:

    @James Pearce: Your 3rd sentence:

    Different perspectives are important to me and I am not threatened by them.

    is not the actual outcome of your first:

    The point of the exercise is to imagine people who don’t agree with me, who look at things differently from me.

    It is important to learn about different perspectives, and not be threatened by them. But you don’t do that by imagining people who don’t agree with you. You do it by actually talking to and listening to those people. The reason you’re getting so much flak about your “imagine people on the train” comment is because the end result of the exercise is just that: your imagination.

  31. James Pearce says:

    @Monala:

    You do it by actually talking to and listening to those people. The reason you’re getting so much flak about your “imagine people on the train” comment is because the end result of the exercise is just that: your imagination.

    A) That’s not the reason I’m getting so much flak.

    B) I talk to and listen to people here and in other contexts. (These conversations are not really appropriate to have with strangers on the train.) It’s a mental exercise, mentioned once and dragged out every time certain folks want to clown on me.

  32. Mister Bluster says:

    The merits of the candidate are almost irrelevant.

    They were totally irrelevant to Republicans last time around.
    Unless they actually wanted a sexual pervert who is a complete moron to be President.

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  33. Tyrell says:

    @Jax:
    Beto seems nice enouth, but down in Texas he will have to ramp it up a bit. Drop the open collar dress shirt; he looks and acts like a high school science teacher doing a field class or the assistant manager of a shoe store. He needs a shirt, striped tie, and cowboy hat. Columbia University? Okay, he can work around that. He will need to become a fan of the Longhorns or Texas A&M. And the Cowboys. Definitely the Cowboys, as much as I hate to say it (hope my family does not see this). He needs to be seen with Jerry Jones some.
    He is a Texan. He needs to start acting like it.

  34. James Pearce says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Unless they actually wanted a sexual pervert who is a complete moron to be President.

    It should be clear now that they’re indifferent to that stuff.

    They wanted a guy who was going to check off items on the todo list. And they got him.

  35. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “The point of the exercise is to imagine people who don’t agree with me, who look at things differently from me. I’m an old school liberal. Different perspectives are important to me and I am not threatened by them.”

    Why would you be, when you explicitly stated that all these people who look at things differently than you all think exactly the same way you do?

  36. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “It’s a mental exercise, mentioned once and dragged out every time certain folks want to clown on me.”

    In the words of Maya Angelou, when someone tells you who he is, believe him.

    Call it clowning if that amuses you. To the rest of the world here it was a clear look into how you think. Sorry that you slipped up and actually revealed a little about yourself, instead of your usual hiding behind moving goal posts…