A leftover from yesterday. Literally the one thing that distinguishes Schultz from so many of the ultrarich is that he’s a completely self-made man. He grew up proletarian, worked hard (including as a bartender, like Ocasio-Cortez herself famously did), and now looms above the bourgeoisie, to put this in terms that may be more relatable to AOC. You can criticize him for a thousand other things — his campaign platform is vacuous, he has a bad habit of referring to his political opponents as “un-American,” he stands a good chance of helping Trump on Election Day next year if he sees this through, and of course he sells massive shots of sugary goo to people and markets it as “coffee.” Hit him on any of those, or all, and you’re scoring a point. There’s only one way to swing hard at him and miss.
And so of course that’s the swing Ocasio-Cortez, the left’s Trumpy counterpuncher, took.
Why don’t people ever tell billionaires who want to run for President that they need to “work their way up” or that “maybe they should start with city council first”? https://t.co/3d8Nenrvl5
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 30, 2019
Friends on the left tried to bail her out but it only got worse. Turns out this is the first case in history where someone rising from childhood in a housing project to phenomenal success in business isn’t so impressive:
If you "grew up in the projects," then you're not "self-made."
The "projects" are taxpayer-funded public housing. Your friends, neighbors, family members and millions of Americans you never met all worked and paid their taxes so that you wouldn't have to grow up homeless. https://t.co/zcWIMw2O4m
— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) January 30, 2019
To be fair to Ocasio-Cortez, she’s talking about politics specifically here. Why do we view political amateurs like Trump and Schultz as instant presidential material whereas less wealthy newcomers to politics are told to start small and advance slowly through the ranks? Why should the rich be able to leapfrog the process of paying one’s dues in politics just because they can fund a national campaign? I thought we answered this question in 2016, though: It’s not merely that they have the wherewithal to bankroll a presidential run, it’s that voters treat their private success as a harbinger of how successful they’d be as president. We need someone smart, capable, untainted by having worked in “the swamp,” with a record of managerial cunning to help get the country back on track; the candidate’s wealth is allegedly the proof that they’re up to snuff. Donald J. Trump, who survived multiple corporate bankruptcies, employed people like Michael Cohen, and spent most of his recent pre-presidential career as a game-show host, leveraged the public’s intuition that wealth means hyper-competence into a successful presidential run. Schultz has an even better claim on that idea than Trump did given his journey from the lower class to undreamt-of riches.
But there’s a difference (well, many differences, starting with charisma) between Trump and Schultz that explains why the former is president while the latter would be an afterthought if he ran. Trump actually had a policy program. You could support him because you believe “Trump = success!”, of course, but you could also support him because you think we need limits to immigration, more protectionism for American workers, and a serious rethink on commitments overseas. I think Ocasio-Cortez would answer the “wealth equals competence” point by insisting that (a) of course it’s not universally true and (b) even if it’s true in Schultz’s case, campaigns aren’t supposed to be tests of candidate competence. They’re a competition of policy visions. Trump has a vision, sort of. AOC does too. What’s Howard Schultz’s vision apart from “single-payer goes too far”?
Liz Mair makes another good point about Trump and Schultz today at the Bulwark. What sort of voter has lived through the Trump era and now has a serious appetite for Schultz? If you like what the past two years have brought, you’re sticking with Trump. If you don’t like it, you’re surely not about to roll the dice on … another untested centrist-y businessman turned politician.
Perot racked up votes not just among “fair traders,” but among people who were deeply skeptical of the political class, wanted all the bums booted out, and who, at the time, were under 45 and very white. The truth is, that sounds a lot like Trump coalition today.
That’s actually Schultz’s biggest challenge: In order to mount a real campaign, and not just be a protest vote, he’ll need to corral a whole bunch of voters who are willing to reject a traditional politician in favor of a businessman. And among that population, you’ve got (1) A whole bunch of people who support Donald Trump, and (2) A whole different bunch of people who, by virtue of Trump experiment, will have gotten the “reject politicians and vote for the businessman” bug out of their systems.
If Schultz makes a run at the presidency, he’s going to have to convince a significant number of voters that the best idea is not to return to the tradition of elevating governors, or occasionally senators, to commander-in-chief because the problem with the idea of a businessman-president is less conceptual than unique to the particular deficiencies of Donald Trump. That is a very nuanced argument to make to a very polarized electorate.
Schultz has no constituency, not unless something happens to tank Trump’s job approval so badly that he’s seen as unelectable and righties need an alternative to the Democrat in a pinch — and if that happened, Republican politicians like Nikki Haley would start jumping into the race to gobble up the GOP vote. I’ll say this, though: The sustained lefty freakout over Schultz over the past 72 hours is having the unintended but beneficial (to them) side effect of generating sympathy for him among righty commentators. Treat this very post as an example if you like. The more right-wingers feel defensive on Schultz’s behalf, the better it is for Democratic purposes since it increases the chance that Schultz will pull more votes from Trump than from the Democratic nominee next fall. Good thing for POTUS Schultz will be out of the race in a month or two, cowed by progressives into slinking away.