When I put that question to Twitter, Nate Silver responded, “No. It’s like the candidacy you’d get if you forced a bot to watch 1,000 hours of No Labels videos.” That’s barely a joke. Schultz was asked about his vision for the country this morning on CBS, at a moment when Elizabeth Warren’s pushing a wealth tax on the ultra-rich and Kamala Harris is talking up single-payer, and he answered, “To unite the country, for us to come together, to do everything we can to realize that the promise of America is for everyone.”
That’s not a platform, buddy. That’s a Hallmark card.
He does oppose single-payer, to his credit, but that’s about as specific as I’ve seen him get. Watch a minute or two of his exchange with Meghan McCain from “The View” this morning in which she tries to pin him down on abortion. I’m pro-choice, Schultz allows, before immediately trying to pivot to No-Labels-style stuff about putting aside our differences — but McCain cuts him off, to her credit. You can’t just push aside an issue like abortion and start babbling about fiscal reform and the broken two-party system. Cultural differences matter deeply to voters, particularly that one. Schultz reminds me of Mitch Daniels circa 2011 urging Republicans and Democrats to “table” their disagreements on social hot buttons and come together to tackle big-picture questions like the national debt and entitlements. Eight years later, with both parties having abandoned fiscal responsibility and Trump having been elected as the culture-warrior-in-chief, Schultz’s reprise of Daniels feels like a joke. Who’s the audience for this pitch? Which party is clamoring for a reckoning with sustainability instead of hoping to loot the Treasury for their own preferred programs?
The most charitable thing you can say about Schultz’s pitch is that it’s a sort of meta “drain the swamp” argument. He’s one-upping Trump 2016 by insisting that true systemic reform can’t come to American politics unless we bust the two-party duopoly first. His pitch, in a way, is that it almost doesn’t matter what he believes or which policies he supports; good policies can’t happen anyway until we end the partisan era. If he were serious about that, though, the obvious strategic move would be to first identify which party’s nominee is more likely to crater early in the campaign, leaving members of that party scrambling for an alternative. There’s no scenario in which an independent candidate surges late in the race against two reasonably popular nominees; the incentive for voters to vote strategically in the home stretch by sticking with their side is too powerful. But if one major-party candidate’s support fell dramatically early on, an independent with similar policy ideas might benefit for those same strategic reasons, because partisan voters are looking for their best option to keep the other side out of power.
If that were Schultz’s approach, the obvious thing to do would be to run as a soft Republican since Trump is far more likely to be badly damaged (see, e.g., Russiagate) before the campaign heats up than any Democrat is. But his answer to McCain all but destroys that possibility. You don’t need to be perfectly sync with your base to win the presidency, as Trump’s last campaign proved, but you need to be with them on the big stuff. Professing his pro-choice view means he’s a nonstarter for various righties who might otherwise be looking for an excuse to hop off the Trump train. Baffling.
Still, I’m glad he’s running because the left’s days long pants-sh*tting over his candidacy on social media has been endlessly entertaining. I haven’t seen them freak out like this since the Kavanaugh wars. The fear isn’t so much that he’ll siphon off votes from the Democratic nominee on Election Day, I think; liberal memories of Ralph Nader are long and, as I say, voters in the age of negative partisanship vote strategically. (Plus, there’s a very real chance that Schultz would take more votes from Trump than from the Democrat.) The fear, rather, is that Schultz will do well enough in early polling that many Democratic voters will conclude they have no choice but to nominate a centrist, to blunt Schultz’s appeal to the middle. Progressives have been waiting three years for another chance to take over the party. They had to put up with a weak centrist last time as nominee; this time it’s supposed to be their turn. But now here’s Schultz — a stalking horse, witting or not, for Joe Biden, perhaps.
Either that or the lefty freakout is some clever psy op designed to get righties interested in Schultz. He’s owning the libs this week even more than Trump has!
Here’s Behar telling him how worried she is that he’ll inadvertently help reelect Trump, to which Schultz replies with a variation of the point I made above. What if Democrats nominate someone so far left, he asks, that that candidate ends up stuck at 30 percent or so? What will Dem voters panicked about four more years of Trump do except migrate to the “electable” independent? Not gonna happen, not with negative partisanship the way it is, but it’s a nice theory.