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Why Trump wants Howard Schultz to run for president, briefly explained

With his 2020 prospects looking bleak, Trump needs some help.

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz Discusses Role Of Public Global Companies Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is ready for a Howard Schultz run, even if no one else is.

During a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, Schultz — the billionaire former Starbucks CEO and longtime Democrat — said he’s “seriously thinking of running for president” as a self-funded “centrist independent.”

Schultz’s announcement did not go over well, particularly among progressives concerned he could split the Democratic vote, and thereby help Trump win a second term.

As if on cue, the following morning, Trump posted a tweet goading Schultz into running.

If there were any doubt about Trump’s true intentions, the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman reported that Trump told attendees of a fundraiser at the Trump International Hotel down the street from the White House on Monday night that his tweet was aimed at persuading Schultz to run.

While Trump was speaking to that fundraiser, Schultz got heckled at an event in New York City on Monday by someone who yelled at him, “Don’t help elect Trump! You egotistical billionaire asshole!” On Tuesday morning, Trump’s favorite TV show, Fox & Friends, responded to the incident by defending Schultz.

“So ‘billionaire’ is a bad word now? Can’t make money,” show co-host Ainsley Earhardt said, with co-host Steve Doocy chiming in to describe Schultz as a “formidable” candidate.

As is the case with the president, Fox & Friends hosts may have ulterior motives for encouraging Schultz — namely, helping the president who regularly live-tweets and promotes their show win another term.

Trump might need a third-party spoiler like Schultz to win in 2020

Schultz is publicly flirting with a presidential run at a time when numerous polls indicate Trump is so unpopular that he may need to split the Democratic vote to win in 2020.

An NPR/PBS/Marist poll released last week found that a majority of registered voters — 57 percent — have already made up their minds that they will definitely not vote for Trump next year. That finding is echoed by a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday showing that 56 percent of Americans will “definitely not vote for” Trump, compared to just 44 percent who are still open to voting for him.

While those numbers are inauspicious, one way that Trump could win despite them is if the Democratic vote ends up being split by a third-party or independent candidate like Schultz. As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake explains:

Trump may not need those 56 percent of voters. He won the presidency, after all, with just 46 percent of the popular vote — about two points higher than the 44 percent who are at least open to supporting his reelection. He could win with even less of the vote if a third-party/independent candidate, like former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz, splits the vote three ways.

While Schultz is more conservative than mainstream progressives on some issues — during the 60 Minutes interview he described free health care for all as “unaffordable,” for example — his political ideology has more in common with Democrats than Republicans, and he has been publicly critical of Trump.

As indicated by Trump’s disastrous handling of the government shutdown he instigated, his ability to play 12-dimensional chess is overstated. But both he and his supporters have rightfully concluded they have much more to gain than lose if Schultz decides to run and peels away votes from whoever ends up being the Democratic nominee — and that’s why they’re encouraging him to go for it.


Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter. Read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage each day at Vox.com/policy-and-politics.

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