Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, is introducing a new power to our American system of checks and balances: the “Billionaire Veto.”
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever see a Schoolhouse Rock video about this. The Billionaire Veto is a power that only exists informally, with the sole qualification required for use being the possession of obscene wealth. Let’s explore how we got here.
Howard Schultz teased his run for President on January 27th by tweeting “I love our country, and I am seriously considering running for president as a centrist independent.” The tweet was immediately ratioed, with 47,000 overwhelmingly negative replies far outweighing the 25,000 likes and the 4,000 retweets.
Nevertheless, Schultz persisted. First by criticizing Senator Elizabeth Warren for her proposed wealth tax and her support for progressive policies such as Medicare for All. Then by telling CNBC “I respect the Democratic Party. I no longer feel affiliated because I don’t know their views represent the majority of Americans. I don’t think we want a 70 percent income tax in America,” in reference to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed plan of a 70% marginal tax rate on income made above 10 million dollars.
Schultz’s view on the “majority of Americans” was demonstrably incorrect. Recently, a Hill-HarrisX survey found 59% of registered voters approve of Ocasio-Cortez’s plan, and a Fox News poll found that 70% of registered voters backed hiking taxes for families making more than $10 million a year.
Schultz didn’t let these quickly debunked statements stop him from making more misinformed statements. Schultz proceeded to claim that Reagan was the best Republican president in the past 50 years, in part because he had so much respect for the position that “he never took his jacket off in the Oval Office” (there are several photos of Reagan with his jacket off in the oval office). Schultz rejected claims he was out of touch but struggled to guess the price of cereal (it’s $4, or more if you buy it at Joe’s).
It doesn’t help that Schultz has very little actual policy positions besides wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare (these are proposals that have historically always polled poorly). Schultz has mainly focused on vague platitudes about how the Democrats and Republicans are too mean-spirited towards each other, engaging too much in what he dubs “revenge politics” instead of working together.
Schultz claims that there would be broad support for a centrist candidate like himself. This is perhaps Schultz’s most ignorant assertion, a recent poll from Change Research found that only 4% of registered voters view Schultz favorably, with 40% viewing him unfavorably, and 56% not having an opinion.
This would have been more than enough to disqualify any normal candidate, but Howard Schultz has 3.4 billion dollars. He can self-fund his campaign regardless of how unpopular or disliked he is by the broader American public. While his chances for becoming president are non-existent, he has the power to make the difference in the 2020 presidential race by causing a “spoiler effect,” when two candidates split the vote and cause a third less popular candidate to win the race.
Schultz seems to be aiming his campaign at a traditionally center-left Democratic base. Doing so could take small percentages away from the Democratic nominee in battleground states where voting margins as small as 2% can sometimes make the difference, effectively handing the race to Donald Trump, the presumed Republican nominee.
This is the first ever blatant use of the Billionaire Veto. Howard Schultz isn’t taking his presidential campaign seriously because it’s not a serious presidential campaign –– it’s a threat. The threat is that if Democrats attempt to tax the rich, billionaires like Schultz will throw the election to the opposing side.
The very fact that a single man with no other qualifications other than making a fortune selling overpriced coffee can upset our electoral process to such a degree is emblematic of how broken our electoral process is. Wealth inequality continues to escalate in America, with no signs of stopping.
The top 1% of households own more than the bottom 90% of households combined. As this inequality becomes more apparent, people will support measures to decrease it, and billionaires like Howard Schultz will try to stop them. Don’t let it happen.