The Morning Jolt


The Flat White of Potential Presidential Bids: Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz at the Starbucks annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, Wash., March 18, 2015. (David Ryder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the man who brought cappuccinos to seemingly every street corner in America announces that he’s thinking about running for president as an independent; a long list of news, sights, and comments from the Koch network’s winter meeting in Indian Wells, Calif.; and a surprising figure tries to persuade Democrats that they don’t want to nuke the filibuster if they win a majority in the Senate in 2020.

Grande, Quad, Nonfat, One-Pump, No-Whip, Vanilla Independent Presidential Candidate

I’ve given former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz more than his share of grief already in this nascent presidential cycle by calling him “a giant pile of money” and “a political consultant’s dream client”: super-rich, unfamiliar with the hard-knock world of presidential campaigns, and probably naïve enough to believe that lofty and noble ideals stated clearly are enough to win the presidency.

But you almost have to admire the audacity of Schultz ditching the always-ridiculous notion of competing for the Democratic presidential nomination and aiming to become the first serious independent presidential candidate since H. Ross Perot. This is like a figure skater announcing plans to do a lengthy series of quadruple axels in the Olympics — amazing if it works, a formula for falling flat on your face if it doesn’t. The two most likely outcomes are a distant third place (embarrassing) or splitting the anti-Trump vote and helping Trump win reelection, which would make Schultz a spectacularly hated figure among America’s Democrats.

Schultz announced last night that he would run as “a centrist independent,” and the conventional wisdom among a lot of pundits is that there’s simply not enough votes in the middle to come close to the presidency in a three-way race. The study Hidden Tribes surveyed 8,000 people across the country and found that 67 percent of respondents didn’t fit either the “progressive activists” or “devoted conservatives” classifications, and were in what the study called “the exhausted majority.” You figure that there will be a decent number of Americans who aren’t in Trump’s camp and who will find the Democratic nominee too left-wing for their tastes. Some small segment of the electorate will appreciate a presidential candidate talking about the debt as a “a reckless failure of [lawmakers] constitutional responsibility” instead of indulging the electorate’s preference for denial. Republicans will appreciate him for declaring the Democratic vision of “free health care for all” unaffordable.

Democrats will fume about him being a CEO, but he can argue that he’s ensured his workers were treated well, enjoying health insurance, tuition aid, and stock. And when he tells 60 Minutes, “I’ve become bored with President Trump and his tweets . . . ” how many former Republicans will concur?

As for the Democrats panicking that Schultz would doom, or at least enormously complicate their efforts in 2020 . . . look, fellas, if you can’t get 270 electoral votes against Donald Trump and Howard Schultz, pack it up and go home. They aren’t Ronald Reagan and Lee Iacocca.

Hawks, Deion, Mayonnaise Legislation, and Celebrity Chefs

News and notes from the Koch Network winter meeting . . .

Hawkish Positions: The Koch meeting is held at the Renaissance Indian Wells resort, which is as luxurious as you would expect. The resort hires pest control staff who use predator birds, perched upon their gauntlet like a falcon, to hunt down and scare rodents and nuisance birds. Below you’ll see Ben from Winged Solutions, a local pest control company, with “Thomas Harris,” a bay-winged hawk named after the man who discovered him.

Big Crowd:  The Koch Seminar network’s James Davis was cheerful Saturday, announcing that this year’s winter meeting hit new records with about 700 total attendees, 634 donor partners (who pledge to donate at least $100,000 per year) and 181 first-time attendees. (The Koch Seminar Network has more than 100,000 total donors, many of whom are small donors.)

Prime Time: Deion Sanders appeared at the seminar for the second time in three years, discussing his work with Urban Specialists, a Dallas-based nonprofit aimed at reducing violence and helping at-risk youth run by Bishop Omar Jahwar. After hearing about how the group tackled the multitude of challenges in communities stricken with poverty, drug addiction, and single parents, I asked him if he ever felt like Sisyphus. He jokingly responded,:

Who’s he?” and then added, “It’s not a struggle or a chore to go into the inner city, to go out and do what we do. It’s not a chore. That’s how we get down. We do more in the dark than we ever do in the light.” Referring to Stand Together, the Koch network’s organization focusing on building social capital, Sanders said, “They help us dot our ‘I’s and cross our ‘t’s. They make sure our hearts and our minds are straight.

Jahwar, when asked about creating partnerships with people with different viewpoints: “Our secret sauce is that we believe in redemption.” If anyone can be redeemed, then no one is worthless or not worth engaging.

Oh, and Sanders predicts Tom Brady and the Patriots will win the Super Bowl.

Mayonnaise Wars: After a comment that Americans can’t even seem to agree about mustard or mayonnaise, Senator Mike Lee of Utah said that he had actually fought a battle on Capitol Hill in August about mayonnaise. A few years ago, a California company started selling vegan, or egg-free, mayonnaise. This disgruntled the country’s egg producers, who complained to the Food and Drug Administration. Under a 1938 Federal law, the FDA has the power to set “standards of identity,” or rules defining what does and does not qualify as a particular food product. The FDA declared that labeling an egg-free product “mayonnaise” was illegal. A similar controversy surrounded the labeling of almond milk, even though, as Lee put it, “No one buys almond milk under the false illusion that it came from a cow! They buy almond milk because it didn’t come from a cow!”

Lee teamed with New Jersey Democrat Senator Cory Booker to sponsor an amendment to an appropriations bill that essentially declared, as Lee summarized Saturday night, “The federal government has no business telling you what you can and can’t call mayonnaise!” Sadly, their amendment failed, 14 to 84; Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin called the amendment “an attack on dairy farmers across the country.”

Another memorable line from Senator Lee: “My great-great grandfather had a lot of children, and I mean a lot. My staff likes to joke that the only way I got elected was that I’m related to half the state.”

From Prison to the Kitchen: Last year’s winter meeting had a big emphasis on criminal-justice reform; this year, there’s a push for the next step, which is getting employers to give felons a chance to work. Sunday’s lunch session featured celebrity chef Curtis Stone, who runs two high-end restaurants, one in Beverly Hills and the other in Hollywood, who has hired about 50 employees over the past five years from a Koch-aided job placement program, Chrysalis.

Stone appeared with two of his employees; former convicted felon Darrell Stevenson started as a dishwasher at one of Stone’s restaurants and is now the back-of-house manager, and Byron Taylor struggled with addiction and is now an assistant manager. Taylor told the story of showing up an hour and a half early for his tryout.

“They have the keys when I’m not there, they have access to the restaurant, and not only do they take care of it, they’re very honest in how they go about their business, and they probably hold the rest of the team more accountable than I do,” Stone said.

The 2020 Decision: It’s fascinating to see some people react as if the Koch network announcing that they do not intend to support Trump in 2020 is surprising — or all that consequential, considering that the network sat out the 2016 election as well. Neither Charles Koch and the people heading up the network nor Trump have changed their positions, philosophies, or outlook since Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower in 2015. Koch himself often quotes Frederick Douglass’s statement, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong,” so it’s not surprising that the Kochs cheered the tax cuts and regulatory rollback and worked with the administration on criminal-justice reform.

But Koch also frequently speaks of the need to “recognize the dignity in all human beings and to treat them with that dignity.” It’s easy to see that Koch sees his philosophies on life as fundamentally incompatible with the way that Trump treats people.

Felon Voting Rights: The network said that it also expects to focus on initiatives at the state level, with the potential for unexpected short-term alliances in those efforts as well. In 2018, the Koch network cooperated with the ACLU on Florida’s Initiative Four, which automatically restored the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions who had completed their sentences, which chairman Brian Hooks characterized as “welcoming them as full citizens again.” The statewide referendum passed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

“That was an exciting win,” he said. “More than 1.4 million people benefitted the next day.” In twelve states, felons lose their voting rights indefinitely; in 22 states, felons are not permitted to vote while on parole or on probation.

PAC-Man: Hooks said that the group was taking a “fresh look” at a wide range of options for enacting its ideas through policy, including creating long-term issue-focused political action committees (PACs), but he indicated a decision on that idea was not imminent.

Finally, Mike Rowe, responding to a fan who was horrified to learn that Rowe had worked with the Koch network on various initiatives:

I have no interest in changing your opinion of Charles Koch, or me. Nor will I ask you to ‘let it slide.’ If the sight of Koch’s name at the end of these videos is simply too painful for you to reconcile, then by all means, take your marbles and go home. Just remember, hundreds of people have benefited enormously from his support of MikeRoweWORKS. Do with that what you will, and good luck to you, regardless.

Look Who Wants to Keep the Filibuster Around

Kirsten Gillibrand argues for the preservation of the filibuster: “I don’t mind that you have to get 60 votes for cloture (ending debate and voting on a piece of legislation),” “That’s not an unreasonable goal . . . if you don’t have 60 votes yet, it just means you haven’t done enough advocacy and you need to work a lot harder.”

ADDENDUM: North Dakotan columnist Rob Port with a difficult but accurate observation: “Free markets and democracy are very good at delivering people what they want, even when they claim they don’t want it.”


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