The message of former Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz is clear: Americans are tired of partisan politics.
He told a group of business owners at a Thursday town hall hosted by the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce that his brand of politics could be the antidote to that apathy.
“If I run for president and am fortunate enough to be elected president that four years later, there is a large reservoir of trust and confidence in the honor and dignity of the oval office,” he said.
Schultz has been in Florida and Texas this week, talking to audiences in campaign trail fashion as he considers a 2020 presidential run as an Independent.
Former Florida state Rep. David Jolly moderated the discussion.
RUNNING AS AN INDEPENDENT
Schultz said that Democrats have contrived a “false narrative.”
“And that false narrative is that if I run for president as an outsider, outside the two-party system, that I would, in fact, be a spoiler and help Donald Trump become re-elected,” he told the audience.
Schultz said that he believed Trump would win if his only opponents were Democratic candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris or Beto O’Rourke, “people who are talking about things that are not consistent with the heritage of the country.”
He added, “If I’m in the race, it’s not about eight to ten battleground states that have previously decided the election, it’s over 40 states and all of sudden the dynamics really change.”
But in February, a poll conducted by his team found that in a hypothetical presidential race against Trump and candidates Harris and Warren, Schultz received 17 percent of the vote. That percentage gets Schultz, as an Independent, on the debate stage.
“What I can promise you is that if I proceed, I will be on that debate stage,” he said.
Schultz believes his emphasis on centrism and the American public’s desire to return to honesty and civility means he can win the electoral votes he needs to become president - if he should decide to run.
“If I make that decision, affirmatively, I will strongly believe that I can win and that there is a pathway to 270,” he told WUSF News after the town hall. “I will say this - if President Trump does not win the state of Florida or the state of Texas, there’s a high, high chance he can not get to 270.”
Schultz is also hopeful that other groups including almost half of registered voters who identify as independents, new voters, Hispanic voters and the 100 million people who did not vote in the 2016 presidential election may give him a boost.
“Latinos and Hispanics who have come to America have a great understanding of what socialism is,” Schultz said. “Who are they going to vote for in 2020 if there is a socialist person and this group of people on a character basis believes that Donald Trump needs to go?"
Schultz said he could decide as early as this summer if he will make his campaign official.
Until then, here’s where he stands on key policy issues such as climate change, guns, immigration, and health care:
Climate change is a big concern for Floridians, especially ones who live in coastal cities. Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar met with environmental leaders in Tampa earlier this week.
One of Klobuchar's main priorities would be rejoining the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Schultz said he would make a similar move if elected.
“The planet is on a collision course with time,” he said. “When I talk about trying to honor the center, the center is science as well as religion and faith, but it’s science and it has to be embraced.”
As gun new legislation emerges in Florida that would loosen restrictions and allow more people to have access to firearms, notably in schools, Jolly asked Schultz for his view on assault rifles.
“Weapons of war should not be a part of American society,” he said.
But Schultz said the Second Amendment should be protected.
Schultz lambasted Trump’s national emergency calling for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
He said, though, that he's on the same side as Republicans when it comes to a strict border security.
“I agree with Republicans that ICE has a role to play and we should resource them and give them responsibility to protect the border and make sure bad people are not coming in,” he said. “However, I strongly believe that the most humane thing to do is to give the Dreamers an opportunity to become citizens, a pathway to citizenship.”
As far as undocumented immigrants or those whose visas have expired, Schultz echoed a familiar metaphor: get in line.
“We’re not going to send 11 million people back. We don’t even have the resources to do that, so we have to find a legal way for those people to pay their taxes, if they have not paid them, pay their fee and get in line and become citizens,” he said.
Schultz somewhat sidestepped a question on the individual mandate by asking Jolly what he thought. He eventually responded, essentially saying premiums are too high and not enough people have access to insurance.
As for the individual mandate, Schultz gave a simple "yes," before diverting to a familiar mantra of a “broken” system.
“The issue I’m trying to focus on right now is we have a runaway health care crisis in America and the question is how to fix it,” he said.