Politics Chat: Howard Schultz, Ralph Northam and the future of the Democratic Party

By Aristophanes and Hermes

Editor’s Note: The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity, grammar and style.

Aristophanes (Ari): Recently, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced he is “seriously thinking of running for president” in 2020 as an independent, ostensibly centrist, candidate.

If he does run, I don’t imagine he would earn very many votes, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t influence the outcome of the election.

My question is: Do you think he would draw more votes from the Republican candidate (presumably Donald Trump) or the eventual Democratic nominee?

Hermes: It’s very clear from polling data so far that he would draw more votes from the Democrat.

Ari: Huh. I buy that, I think. The polling is pretty clear, and it matches the general consensus.

Although it’s a little weird. Schultz has immediately drawn more ire from the left than the right, and he seems to be criticizing the Democratic Party more heavily than the Republican Party, at least for now. With his pro-business, anti-tax economic message, you’d think that Schultz’ natural constituency would be cosmopolitan, wealthy Republicans who don’t care much for cultural conservatism.

Though I guess Schultz might also appeal to wealthy Democrats who care about cultural liberalism but don’t care as much for liberal economic policy.

Hermes: His primary constituency is people foolish enough to believe the erosion of respect and decency in American politics is equally the fault of Democrats and Republicans.

Ari: Speaking of decency in politics — or lack thereof — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, was recently criticized for a 1984 yearbook photo in which he appears to be posing in either blackface or in a Ku Klux Klan outfit.

I think Northam should probably step down. He has apologized, but this is simply too embarrassing and unacceptable. Several high profile Democratic leaders, both in Virginia and nationally, have already called for his resignation. But, as of now, it appears he is standing firm — even contesting whether it is him in the photo at all.

Hermes: How can he walk back that he’s not one of the people in the photo? That’s just insane.

Ari: It’s weird. Maybe he really isn’t one of the people in that photo? But then why was it printed on his personal yearbook page?

Hermes: Exactly my point.

Ari: I think there’s already a substantial amount of outrage across the internet. I usually don’t like piling on in these circumstances, but I have to point something out.

Northam wasn’t all that young when this occurred. This isn’t a middle or high school yearbook… it’s his medical school yearbook.

Med students are definitely adults who should know better.

Hermes: That’s an excellent point. Northam graduated from med school when he was in his mid-20s.

Ari: If he doesn’t resign, it makes Democrats look very hypocritical on issues of racial justice.

Hermes: I largely agree, but this isn’t a problem isolated to Democrats. Just look at Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa. He’s been spouting racist speech for years and still hasn’t been forced into resigning.

Ari: I think the bar for decency is often, unfairly, set higher for Democrats than it is for Republicans.

For example, consider the respective scandals of former Sen. Al Franken and former Senate candidate Roy Moore. Following allegations of past sexual misconduct, Franken was forced into resigning from the Senate by fellow Democrats. Around the same time, fellow Republicans did not succeed in forcing Moore into withdrawing from his Alabama Senate race following the Washington Post‘s unearthing of credible pedophilia claims.

As Post columnist Paul Waldman put it: “Franken’s resignation shows that only one of our great parties has any integrity.”

Democrats are consciously trying to be the party of diversity, inclusion and racial justice. They should take something of this nature very seriously, as failing to do so negatively impacts their political message.

Hermes: It’s a false equivalency.

Ari: Agreed.

Unrelated question: Do you think Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden are going to run for president? Recently, I’ve been doubting whether they will, particularly with Beto, who doesn’t seem to be preparing for a presidential run, at least fundraising-wise.

Hermes: I’d say Beto probably won’t, but Biden probably will.

Ari: I agree with that.

Hermes: The New York Times has a handy chart.

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 1.19.20 PM.png

Ari: Those seem mostly accurate, although I would move Sen. Amy Klobuchar from “might run” to “likely to run.”

Hermes: I would be shocked if she won the nomination, although I know you really like her.

Ari: Oh, she will never win. But I do think she will run. I’m trying not to let my personal bias influence my predictions. But from some recent reports, it really seems as if she’s more inclined than not to run for president.

Hermes: She’s kind of boring.

Ari: Hey, boring isn’t a bad thing in the age of Trump. We could use more boringness in our national political environment.

Hermes: I believe it is. Boring won’t defeat him. Which is why Julian Castro and John Delaney have no chance.

Ari: As of right now, I think Sen. Kamala Harris is most likely to win the nomination. I’d put Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a close second.

Hermes: I agree completely. Although I think Bernie or Biden could beat Harris.

Ari: Bernie and Biden are right on the periphery, in my opinion. But we aren’t sure Biden will run in the first place. And Sanders’ platform has much in common with Warren’s, meaning, if they both run, it might split their constituencies and make it harder for either to win the nomination.

Harris, on the other hand, will undoubtedly clean up when delegate-rich California holds its primary — which will be much earlier this time around than in 2016.

Hermes: Kamala is a rock star for her handling of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation. Bernie and Biden are both strong public speakers, and neither is what I would call “boring.”

Personally, I would rather support Bernie than Warren.

Ari: We’ve talked about this before, but I still think Warren, a former Harvard Law professor and first to propose creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has put much more thought into her policies than Bernie has for his platform.

Perhaps Bernie has a better shot in the general election, considering his strong performance in the Upper Midwest during the 2016 primary and that region’s importance to any Democrat’s Electoral College roadmap, but unfortunately I think some of that comes down to sexism.

I don’t want Democrats to take the wrong message from 2016 and shy away form nominating female presidential candidates in the future.

Hermes: While I like Bernie, I would also love to see a woman take down Trump. It would be much more demoralizing for him.

Ari: I would like to see a woman as our next president, but more for the positive reason of breaking the glass ceiling than for the negative reason of demoralizing Trump personally.

And, like I mentioned earlier, because I don’t want Democrats to get into the mindset of seeing woman presidential candidates as a losing proposition. That could set back the timeline for breaking the glass ceiling substantially if the mindset were reinforced with a male Democrat winning handily in 2020.

Hermes: Defeating Trump is my number one goal.

Ari: If beating Trump is the only goal, polling suggests Democrats should nominate Biden. In head-to-head matchups, he seems to stand the best chance of beating Trump in the general election. But, personally, beating Trump is not my only goal.

I am unlikely to vote for Biden, myself, for a number of reasons. I don’t dislike him, but there are stronger candidates in the mix.

Also, insert necessary caveat about early polls not being indicative of a candidate’s true political strength, yada yada.

Hermes: There are a number of candidates capable of beating Trump, in my opinion.

Ari: I think any of those currently running (except for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard) can. And most have a very solid chance. Although some, of course, have better chances than others.

Hermes: I’m not so sure about some of the more under-the-radar Democrats. The candidates with high name recognition can beat Trump.

Ari: But the nomination itself will confer substantial name recognition, and it’s a long campaign full of debates, speeches, advertisements and media discussion.

In other words, there’s plenty of time for a lesser-known Democrat to make himself or herself known to voters during the general election. ■

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