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How Starbucks Magnate Howard Schultz Might Impact 2020 U.S Presidential Election

Political scientists, by and large, believe Clinton would have won in a two-candidate contest. But there are members of the GOP who still blame Perot for making the elder Bush a single-term president.

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Starbucks
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks at the time, speaks at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in Seattle, March 22, 2017. VOA

A billionaire, with the ability and apparent willingness to self-finance a national campaign, Schultz could have a profound impact on the presidential contest, even if his actual chances of victory would likely be slim.

Schultz’s tentative entry into the race sparked a variety of reactions across the country. His announcement piqued the interest of those who long for an alternative to the two-party system. It also earned the immediate derision of many political veterans, who see him as a wealthy dilettante. Most notably, it provoked outright fear among many Democrats, who worry that his bid could siphon votes away from their party’s eventual nominee, giving President Donald Trump a better shot at re-election, despite his sharp decline in the polls.

People protest outside before former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks during his book tour in Seattle, Jan. 31, 2019.
People protest outside before former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks during his book tour in Seattle, Jan. 31, 2019.( VOA)

Originally from Brooklyn, Schultz, 65, made his billions on the West Coast, turning a small Seattle coffee company into a ubiquitous chain with more than 28,000 outlets worldwide. Along the way, he became a reliable donor to the Democratic Party, calling himself a “lifelong Democrat.”

That, however, has changed.

In a flurry of TV appearances over the past week, Schultz has explicitly broken with both major political parties, insisting that the majority of Americans are not being well-served by “far-right Republicans and far-left Democrats.”

Staking out a middle ground

While Schultz has not yet laid out detailed policy proposals, he appears to be staking out a middle-ground position, agreeing with Republicans on some economic and fiscal issues, but with Democrats on many social issues.

He has angrily denounced proposals from high-profile Democrats to expand Medicare to cover all Americans, and to increase taxes on the wealthy by raising marginal rates on the highest earners, or taxing wealth in addition to income.

In an appearance on CNN, he dismissed the Medicare idea as “not American.” In an interview with National Public Radio, he called Democratic tax plans “ridiculous.”

On many of the issues that have fueled the country’s ongoing culture war, though, Schultz is firmly on the side of his former party. He remains in favor of abortion rights and gay marriage, and has spoken in support of tighter regulation of firearms. He also favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and aggressive action to counter climate change.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is interviewed by FOX News Anchor Dana Perino for her "The Daily Briefing" program, in New York, Jan. 30, 2019. Schultz said he's flirting with an independent presidential campaign that would motivate voters turned off by partisan politics.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is interviewed by FOX News Anchor Dana Perino for her “The Daily Briefing” program, in New York, Jan. 30, 2019. Schultz said he’s flirting with an independent presidential campaign that would motivate voters turned off by partisan politics.(VOA)

Schultz’s pitch is that his mix of policy positions will appeal to what he has repeatedly referred to as a “silent majority” of independent voters who are dissatisfied with both major parties and want an independent candidate to support.

But that assessment of the American electorate isn’t shared by political scientists. While some 40 percent of voters do self-identify as independents, study after study has shown that the overwhelming majority of them actually have a strong preference for one party or the other.

Schultz looms as a ‘spoiler’

To think otherwise is “just incredibly naive,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It shows a very unsophisticated understanding of the American electorate.” He added, “There is a spoiler potential with someone like Schultz. But a path to victory? It’s just difficult for me to imagine.”

Indeed, commentators and partisans on both sides have focused less on Schultz as a potential president and more as a disruptive force in what will almost certainly be a highly contentious election.

“His presence in the race adds a degree of uncertainty,” said Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver.

“He stands very little chance of winning the 2020 election, but he stands a decent chance of affecting the outcome,” Masket added. “If it’s going to be a close re-election race, and I assume it is, his votes could be the difference between a Trump re-election and a defeat.”

For his part, Schultz said he has no intention of aiding the incumbent president.

“I would never put myself in the position of being the person to re-elect Donald Trump,” Schultz told CNN Wednesday. Yet, he strongly signaled that if the Democrats turn toward a far-left candidate like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the temptation to launch an independent campaign would be irresistible.

FILE - Four-term Alabama Gov. George Wallace in his office at the Capitol in Montgomery, March 26, 1984.
Those candidates have come from across the political and social strata of the country, but in living memory, they have all had one thing in common: abject electoral failure.(VOA)

 

Long list of failed political outsiders

Should he make the decision to fully commit to a presidential run, Schultz would join a long list of outsiders who have sought to disrupt the two-party system that has dominated post-Civil War U.S. politics.

Those candidates have come from across the political and social strata of the country, but in living memory, they have all had one thing in common: abject electoral failure.

It has been more than 50 years since a candidate not representing one of the two major parties in the U.S. won even a single electoral vote in a presidential election.

In 1968, George Wallace and the American Independent Party, running on a segregationist platform, managed to collect 46 of them. (The Libertarian Party candidate received one electoral vote in 1972, but he did not actually win it. It was awarded to him by a “faithless” elector, who was supposed to cast his vote for Republican candidate Richard Nixon.)

The most successful independent candidate since Wallace was, like Schultz, another self-funded billionaire. Texas businessman H. Ross Perot earned about 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992, though again, that wasn’t enough to earn him a single electoral vote.

But it is important not to confuse a lack of electoral success with a lack of overall impact, and that’s why Schultz’s potential candidacy is making some people nervous.

Libertarian Jeff Jared of Kirkland, Wash.,holds a sign in support of third parties before former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks during his book tour in Seattle, Jan. 31, 2019.
Libertarian Jeff Jared of Kirkland, Wash.,holds a sign in support of third parties before former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks during his book tour in Seattle, Jan. 31, 2019. (VOA)

The Perot effect

Perot’s effect on the 1992 presidential race remains a source of controversy today.

There is little doubt that his intense focus on the federal budget deficit forced his opponents, incumbent President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton, to pay more attention to the issue than either would have liked. A larger question is whether Perot helped Clinton win the presidency by pulling votes away from Bush.

Political scientists, by and large, believe Clinton would have won in a two-candidate contest. But there are members of the GOP who still blame Perot for making the elder Bush a single-term president.

Better examples of third-party candidates as spoilers arose in both 2000 and 2016.

The election of 2000 came down to the state of Florida, where Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore were within 0.01 percent of each other when the votes were counted.

FILE - Former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader poses in Washington, Aug. 20, 2009.
– Former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader poses in Washington, Aug. 20, 2009. VOA

In that race, charismatic consumer activist Ralph Nader ran as the candidate of the Green Party. He earned 2.74 percent of the vote nationwide, and crucially, 1.63 percent in Florida.

In a different race, it would have been insignificant. But many believe that the Green Party drew its voters almost exclusively from the political left, with a fatal effect on Gore’s candidacy in the state.

More recently, Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016 may have damaged the chances of Democrat Hillary Clinton in key races in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

In all three states, Clinton lost to Republican Trump by fewer votes than Stein received. While it is impossible to know how —or even if — all of Stein’s supporters would have voted if she hadn’t been on the ballot, there is broad consensus that she hurt Clinton far more than Trump.

 Former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg speaks to the media in Jackson, Miss., Nov. 29, 2018. Bloomberg’s philanthropy has announced a $50 million donation to help fight the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg speaks to the media in Jackson, Miss., Nov. 29, 2018. Bloomberg’s philanthropy has announced a $50 million donation to help fight the nation’s opioid epidemic.. Read more at: https://www.newsgram.com/how-starbucks-magnate-howard-schultz-could-beat-2020-election

Bloomberg wary

It’s the potential for a Schultz candidacy to serve as a spoiler that has Democrats, in particular, sweating over his announcement.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is considering a run for the Democratic nomination, said he had researched the possibility of an independent run and believes that it would only benefit Trump.

“In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up re-electing the president,” he said in a statement. “The data was very clear and consistent. Given the strong pull of partisanship and the realities of the Electoral College system, there is no way an independent can win. That is truer today than ever before.”

Also Read: Americans Losing Faith In Government, Democrats Seek Voting Rights

But not everyone is convinced that a Schultz candidacy would be uniquely damaging to a Democratic candidate.

“I think the most natural constituency for someone like Schultz would be affluent, white, college-educated voters in the suburbs, some of whom may be transitioning away from the Republican Party,” Kondik said. “Maybe they grudgingly voted for Clinton in 2016. Maybe they grudgingly voted for Trump. Maybe they voted for another third-party candidate, and maybe some of those voters would be open to voting for someone like Schultz.”

Schultz, he said, could actually damage Trump as much or more as he might a Democratic candidate. (VOA)

Next Story

“They Don’t Make Prayerful Offerings When They Harvest,” Story Of The Native American Church

“The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

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The sun sets over the gateway of peyotera Amada Cardenas's house in Mirando City, Texas. Ironwork reflects core Native American Church values of faith, hope, love and charity. VOA

Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.

Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.

Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994.
Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994. VOA

“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.

“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”

Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.

In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.

Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico.
Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico. VOA

Pan-Native religion

Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.

Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.

In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.

Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”

Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.

Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007.
Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007. VOA

‘A beautiful ceremony’

Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.

“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”

Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.

“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.

This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled "Cheyenne Peyote Leader." Courtesy: Library of Congress.
This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled “Cheyenne Peyote Leader.” Courtesy: Library of Congress. VOA

Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.

“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”

She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.

“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

Sacred gardens

In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.

“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.

The sun sets over "the 605," acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church.
The sun sets over “the 605,” acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church. VOA

In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”

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It is their hope that by 2021, “the 605” will house a nursery, residential and guest housing, and youth training, all supported by peyote sales.

“It’s about generations to come,” said Iron Rope. “To reconnect them to the land and to the medicine. And that’s the healing process that we’ve been missing.” (VOA)