WASHINGTON — As an upbeat Howard Schultz tucked into lunch here recently he was having a good week because Democrats were having an awful one. The former Starbucks CEO, who is contemplating a plunge into politics, knows that his narrow path to the presidency as an independent depends on the Democratic Party becoming as offensive as the Republican Party has become. So, because his political prospects depend on the Democratic Party making normal people wince, he cannot be displeased by:
Numerous Democratic presidential candidates embracing the Green New Deal in the nanosecond before it became a punchline.
Various candidates telling 180 million Americans to have stiff upper lips about losing their private health insurance under “Medicare for all.”
One candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, saying: There will be less paperwork when the government runs health care. Really.
Another candidate (vegan Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey) saying that eating meat threatens the planet.
New York and Virginia Democrats, expanding “reproductive rights” into infanticide, saying that infants who survive late-term abortions will be kept “comfortable” while they die of neglect.
House Democrats swatting an anti-Semite in their caucus, but having to live with rising anti-Israel sentiment in their base.
And remaining hostage to a ubiquitous colleague who became the face of (a) socialism and (b) freshman Democrats by capturing a safe seat after winning a primary with the grand total of 16,898 votes.
Democrats are spewing fury about Schultz, who they think might siphon off anti-Trump votes and become Ralph Nader redux. In 2000, when George W. Bush won the presidency by defeating Al Gore in Florida by 537 votes, Nader, running as the Green Party candidate, received 97,488 Florida votes, thereby probably defeating Gore.
Schultz is startled but undaunted by Democratic vituperation. He says that getting on the ballot in all 50 states will be no problem, and he sees a path to 270 electoral votes — assuming the Democratic nominee embodies a compound of high-octane progressivism and weirdness (see above). A decision to run, which Schultz probably must make by early summer, long before the Democratic nominee will be known, will involve two wagers, the first of which is that Democrats will oblige him by ideological self-indulgence.
If, as is probable, he becomes a candidate, and if, as is not probable, he quickly attracts significant support, he might tug Democrats toward the center. This would weaken the rationale for his candidacy but not erase it because two of his animating concerns — fiscal recklessness (trillion-dollar deficits while the economy grows) and obliviousness regarding the rickety structure of entitlements (Social Security, Medicare) — are as serious as they are perilous. Schultz hopes Americans want to hear the truth about fiscal mismanagement; he knows they might obliterate a candidate who tells them the truth and what should be done about it. This is why candidates avoid these subjects.
Schultz knows that even the most successful third-party candidate failed: In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt — universally known, widely admired, vastly experienced, politically gifted — bested the incumbent president, William Howard Taft, who won just eight electoral votes, but Roosevelt was trounced by Woodrow Wilson, 435 electoral votes to 88. No third-party candidate has won electoral votes since 1968, when George Wallace, who won just 13.5 percent of the vote, carried five states because he had a regional base, the South. He was, however, a wine that did not travel.
Wallace had a vivid personality, as did the sandpapery Ross Perot, who in 1992 won 19 percent of the popular vote, but no electoral votes. Schultz is as mild as oatmeal, which is admirable and conceivably marketable. His other wager (besides that Democrats will nominate someone who makes normal people queasy) is that Americans, exhausted and embarrassed by politics-as-a-mixed-martial-arts-cage-match, will be ready for someone whose message begins with a simple question: “Is this really the best we can do?” The antecedent of “this” is:
A president who calls his porn-star mistress “Horseface.” A supine Republican Party that is content to have the president make a mockery of the basic constitutional architecture, the separation of powers, by declaring a national emergency because of a legislative disappointment, thereby nullifying Congress’ core power, control of spending. And an opposition party that thinks America needs a lot more government supervision of everything, and that this would mean a lot less paperwork.
There. Now, try to argue with a straight face that a challenge to today’s party duopoly would subtract from the stock of excellence in government.
George Will’s email address is email@example.com.