Mulling a run for president as an independent, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in a speech at Miami-Dade College Wednesday that his presidency would be committed to bipartisanship and restoring civility and dignity in the U.S.
In front of more than 100 students and other invitees, Schultz criticized some Democrats for being too extreme and offered a glimpse of how he would campaign in South Florida.
“Several Democratic candidates espouse policies that amount to thinly-veiled levels of socialism,” he said. “This city and all of South Florida is the home of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have fled socialist revolutions that have destroyed free enterprise systems and the rule of law.”
Schultz, who is on a nationwide tour as he considers whether to run, has continuously ripped both parties for heightening political divisions. During his 35-minute speech at Miami Dade College, he said President Donald Trump represents a “failure of character,” but said the president is a symptom of extreme divisions. The response among Democrats, he added, has exacerbated the situation by breeding more polarization.
Schultz’s pitch during the speech was that an independent president could help repair the dysfunction. If elected, he said he would not sign any legislation into law that does not have bipartisan support and would only seat a Supreme Court justice who has a supermajority of support in the U.S. Senate. He also said his cabinet would consist of independents, Republicans and Democrats “who represent America in every way.”
At one point, he added he would routinely meet in the White House with members of both parties over Starbucks coffee, prompting laughter from the audience.
“America’s vital center is falling apart...I will do everything I can to fight for the center where a vast majority of Americans stand,” he said. “Join me to preserve and strengthen the heart of America.”
Presidential candidates have begun making campaign stops in Florida ahead of the 2020 election. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a Democrat, spent Sunday fundraising in the Miami area. Another Democrat, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, stopped in Tampa where she discussed the need to address climate change.
Schultz highlighted his upbringing in a New York public housing complex and moderate economic stance to connect with South Florida voters. In a pitch to Latin American immigrants, he emphasized the benefits of America’s free market enterprise system and condemned what he called rising socialist elements in the Democratic Party.
“These immigrants, these extraordinarily wonderful people from Cuba, from Nicaragua, from other parts of Latin America, have embraced the American way and found success while making tremendous contributions to their communities and our country,” Schultz said.
He said he agrees with Democrats’ intentions to address issues like climate change and income inequality but argued the Green New Deal and plans for free college are unrealistic or not financially feasible. His message echoed a speech Trump gave in Miami in February, denouncing socialism in the Western Hemisphere.
Several attendees who described themselves as independents said Schultz's platform resonates. Beatriz Triay, a Miami Dade College student, said more candidates should start running third-party campaigns.
“I see the [polarization],” she said. “Both of my parents are strongly Republican. I consider myself a radical centrist.”
Still, Schultz—previously a lifelong Democrat—has been a target of criticism among Democrats, who are concerned he will syphon votes away from the Democratic nominee during the general election and help reelect Trump.
“It would take away votes,” said Alexis Mejer, a student at Miami Dade College who has mixed emotions about a Schultz candidacy. In this political system, “it doesn’t make any sense to run for a third party” because it never works out in presidential elections, she added.