Witcover: Howard Schultz for what?

Does retired Starbucks coffee impresario founder Howard Schultz really believe the country is ready for another billionaire business tycoon for president, when it already is overdosed on Donald Trump?

Asking this question certainly does not suggest Mr. Schultz is in any way the national peril posed by the erratic and vindictive incumbent. It's just that the times cry out for a successor in 2020 who is well-grounded in the skills of governing at the federal, state or big-city level.


Mr. Schultz's trial balloon that he may run next year without either major party endorsement is at least realistic insofar as he could not get either one. And with the Democratic Party already bursting from its seams with declared or pondering 2020 candidates, the faithful will have little need or inclination to look elsewhere to choose a credible alternative to Mr. Trump. That is, assuming the president survives the political hurricane around him to seek a second term.

If sensible American voters should be yearning for any kind of new presidential champion right now, it is for someone with solid experience in the task of governing this huge democracy, currently at risk of losing its esteem and stature at home and abroad.


If maturity were the only criterion in their choice, the obvious frontrunner would be former Vice President Joe Biden, who currently leads most opinion polls with as much as 30 percent support. Having served eight years as presidential stand-in and 36 more in the Senate, Mr. Biden stands head and shoulders above the field on record.

But with an electorate of women on the rise and loud Democratic demands for a fresh face, the 77-year-old Uncle Joe, for all his credentials and nice-guy charm, has his detractors as too garrulous and old school. He has yet to decide to run, and if he takes a pass, 2020 may well be when the glass ceiling for a woman on the ticket is finally broken.

Two accomplished Democratic female senators, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, have already broken out of the pack with impressive crowd-drawing announcement rallies, with other women likely to come.

Sen. Amy Klobochar of Minnesota, a visible and outspoken heroine of the failed effort to block the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, has already drawn much encouragement from television pundits, male and female.

Of the male contenders, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a solid defender and hero of blue-collar working stiffs who was recently comfortably re-elected last November, might well benefit most from a Biden no-go decision. But a coterie of experienced state governors is in the wings also available to fill the gap if they so choose.

In light of this prospective bumper crop of political campaigners poised to run, notably including one veteran Republican, retired Gov. John Kasich of Ohio of 18 years in Congress, why in the world Howard Schultz?

He would not be the first political neophyte to throw his hat in the presidential ring as a third-party independent — and fail. The most recent of the species, Texas businessman Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 and Ralph Nader in 2000, took that route and earned bitter assaults as near-spoilers of major party nominees.

Mr. Nader particularly, who earlier had spotlighted auto makers' negligence toward car safety and other social shortcomings, arguably cost Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore the 2000 election by winning 100,000 votes in Florida, enough to enable the state's Supreme Court to hand Florida's electoral votes — and thus the presidency — to Republican George W. Bush.


Right now, there's no evidence or probability that an independent presidential candidacy of Howard Schultz would affect the eventual 2020 outcome. But the country is currently living through the nightmare of another elected businessman who was unschooled in the business of running a public establishment of nearly 330 million citizens, in a time of immense trial and consequence.

Why would American voters at this point want to turn to another self-anointed, self-financed applicant for the presidency like Howard Schultz, whatever his business merits, as the sour fruits of Donald Trump's 2016 election remain on their tongues?

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is