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Schultz is making Dems jittery

February 3, 2019

Democrats are nervous and short-tempered at the thought of an independent presidential run by billionaire Howard Schultz — and not because they have been consuming too much of his delicious but overpriced Starbucks fare. They are not worried that he will succeed (well, not too much) and take the oath of office. They are terrified that he will fail — but siphon off enough votes to provide a second term for Donald J. Trump.

It’s a legitimate concern, but fortunately for them, there’s a way to avoid this fate. Unfortunately for you, you have to read to the end of the column to discover it. (No peeking.)

Democrats rightly believe that the odds of a Schultz victory are about the same as finding something at your neighborhood Starbucks that costs less than $2. (Hey, the guy didn’t get to be a billionaire for nothing.) Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another billionaire who has flirted with an independent presidential bid, said he has run the numbers and found the task to be daunting, bordering on the undoable.

You would need 270 electoral votes, which is just about impossible with Democrats and Republicans having dependable states that would vote for virtually any nominee their party put forth. (Like Trump or Hillary Clinton, a cynic might suggest.)

If no candidate reaches the magic 270, the House of Representatives gets to pick the next prez. But each state gets only one vote, with 26 needed to win, regardless of how many congressional seats it holds within that state. Under that scenario, Republicans usually win because they control more individual states even if they don’t have a majority in the House.

Democratic strategists don’t think it will get that far. They are more concerned that Schultz will simply split the anti-Trump vote and allow the bombastic New Yorker to slide into a second term with a bare majority in the Electoral College. As the 2016 election showed, the popular vote totals are irrelevant.

Democrats also know that this is how the country elected George W. Bush in 2000 and Trump last year.

In 2000, gadfly Ralph Nader attracted a small but significant number of votes that mostly would have gone to Democratic nominee Al Gore. Bush famously won Florida by just 537 votes, while the Green Party’s Nader got 97,488 ballots in the Sunshine State. Ditto for New Hampshire, which Bush barely won and where Nader got 4 percent of the vote. Had Gore taken Florida or New Hampshire, he’d have won.

Lesser known is the impact of Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016. Her vote total in three key states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — was greater than Trump’s margin of victory in those states. If those Stein voters had pulled the trigger for Clinton instead, Trump would be back in his tower hurling insults on Twitter. (OK, he’s still doing the insult thing, but his work desk is in the Oval Office.)

Having seen this movie twice, Democrats dread a sequel. They know that Trump’s approval rating has rarely gone above 45 percent. That’s a low ceiling, but it could provide a majority in the Electoral College if Trumpers live in the right states. As in 2016.

The flip side to this chatter is that large numbers of Americans are disgusted with both parties. They see Democrats edging toward socialism while Republicans drift toward nationalism. Somebody like Schultz could actually appeal to the vast majority of voters in the middle of the spectrum and squeeze out a win. As Trump has shown, we live at a time where the impossible can become possible.

So what should the Democratic Party do to stop Schultz? Try this: Nominate a non-extremist whom people actually like. A center-left coalition of voters could indeed win — just as a center-right mix could, too, if Republicans are interested. Instead of giving voters a choice between the lesser of two evils, give them a choice they can enthusiastically get behind.

Hmmm. That’s an interesting concept. I wonder why neither party has thought of it before?

Thomas Taschinger, TTaschinger@BeaumontEnterprise.com, is the editorial page editor of The Beaumont Enterprise. Follow him on Twitter at @PoliticalTom

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