Schultz: I'll let you know in, oh ... June?

What’s the rush? Howard Schultz stirred the pot over the last couple of weeks, or at least the mochaccino swizzle stick, discussing a potential independent presidential bid and stepping on the campaign launches of Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. The Starbucks founder has taken a lot of flak from progressives for that and for the potential of an independent bid splitting the anti-Trump vote in November 2020.

Schultz hasn’t actually thrown his hat in the ring yet, however. He’s touring in support of his book From the Ground Up, his manifesto for reimagining “the promise of America.” And he plans to take his time on the decision to run:

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on Monday night said he will take “three to four months“ before deciding whether he’ll run for president in 2020 as an independent.

“I promise I would do nothing whatsoever to be a spoiler to re-elect Donald Trump. Nobody wants to see this president leave office more than me,” he said during a stop on his book tour in Chicago. He spoke during a Q&A with Chicago businesswoman and Starbucks Vice Chair Mellody Hobson, who compared the reports of the possibility of an independent run to “dropping a bomb.” …

“I’m not going to be a spoiler. The numbers do not tally up. If I don’t see the evidence to me, I’ll back out. Right now I’m having the courage of my convictions to believe that the system is broken, that politics are broken and someone needs to try to change it.”

Narrator: He was a spoiler. A poll yesterday by Politico and Morning Consult make clear what’s exceedingly obvious already about a serious independent bid in 2020. Schultz would pull far more from Democrats than from Republicans, which would make it easier for Trump to win close states:

The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows anti-Trump and Democratic voters are more open to supporting third-party candidates than Republicans — evidence supporting the prominent Democrats who spent the last week warning that a credible, well-funded independent could improve President Donald Trump’s chances of reelection.

While only 26 percent of voters who approve of Trump’s job performance as president are very or somewhat likely to consider a third-party candidate, a larger percentage of Trump disapprovers, 41 percent, would consider voting for an independent. By party, nearly a third of Democrats, 31 percent, say they would consider a third-party candidate — greater than the 25 percent of Republicans who would consider voting for someone other than the two major-party nominees.

But the data don’t suggest Schultz, the billionaire ex-CEO of Starbucks, could do more than play spoiler in the 2020 presidential race. While 35 percent of all voters in the new poll say they’d consider a third-party candidate, only 12 percent say they’d be very likely to look outside the two major parties. And survey data and experts alike dispute Schultz’s rationale for his possible campaign: that a critical mass of unrepresented voters in the political center could be marshaled into an electoral majority by a moderate voice.

Trump won in 2016 because Hillary Clinton was incompetent at turning out voters in marginal states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Democrats reverted to better turnout in all three blue-wall states in the midterms, which should worry Team Trump, who skated by in all three without adding any significant amounts of voters over Mitt Romney’s 2012 numbers, with Pennsylvania perhaps a bit of an exception. If Schultz manages to put together a campaign as impactful as H. Ross Perot did in 1992, he’s going to sap that turnout and leave those states as well as Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and maybe even Colorado and New Mexico vulnerable for Trump to win by plurality.

If that really worries Schultz, he won’t jump in. But if he does decide to run, Schultz would be better off waiting on that decision until later — much later. He will need enough time to build a campaign organization in most states, presumably using his own money to do it, or perhaps using Perot’s strategy to combine a number of smaller parties into the Schultz Party for 2020. The longer he stays out, the more that Democratic candidates have to focus their guns on each other. Schultz doesn’t have to contend in primaries, so he could conceivably wait until the first of next year to officially launch his campaign — and save himself an awful lot of attacks.

Don’t expect an answer in June. Look for Christmas, and watch to see where Schultz spends his money in the meantime.