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Howard Schultz: The Tribe Has Spoken

June 14, 2019
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1. Howard’s End

I’m sad to say that the great Howard Schultz independent bid is at an end.

Yesterday Schultz announced that he was taking the summer off from politics.

I know what you’re thinking: How will we ever get along without his voice at this vital moment in American history?

Also, he’s laying off a bunch of his “campaign” staff—or, “is realigning his team as he moves into the next phase of an exploration.” That’s how an anonymous source close to Schultz put it. Steve Schmidt will not need to be realigned.

Cha-ching!

There are a lot of ways to look at what the end of the Schultz third-party campaign means.

Most of them will center on asking whether or not it is Good for Trump or Bad for Trump. My view is that this is a harder question than it seems.

On the one hand, Democrats believed that a Schultz third party run would hand the election to Trump by siphoning off moderate voters who otherwise would have pulled the lever for the D.

Maybe that would have been true in a world where Bernie Sanders was the nominee.

But I could just as easily see a scenario in which a Schultz candidacy served as an off-ramp for marginal Trump supporters—suburban women, etc.—who wouldn’t have been able to force themselves to vote for the Democrat but really wanted to park their vote somewhere that wasn’t Trump.

The more interesting question is what this means about the larger dynamics of 2020.

We’ve been working under the assumption that 2020 was going to be craziest reelect campaign ever. Primary challengers for POTUS! 27 Dem candidates! An ongoing impeachment trial! At least one well-funded third-party candidate! A veep switch at the RNC! A big Kang and Kodos reveal on election night!

But what if the Super Crazy Thing No One Sees Coming is that 2020 turns into a pretty generic looking contest:

  • The sitting POTUS avoids a primary challenger
  • There is no impeachment
  • The D field condenses quickly to 5 to 7 major candidates
  • The former VP gets the nomination
  • There is no third-party candidate in the race
  • Mike Pence stays on the ticket
  • No Kang; no Kodos

Those dynamics would make 2020 look like a pretty normal reelect year. Which, in a funny way, would be the ultimate twist.

The big-name challengers to Trump are, so far, on the sidelines. No impeachment. Schultz is ducking out of the third-party lane. Joe Biden is atop the D field.

In other words: Situation almost kind-of normal.

You might think that this is good for Trump: How could the American public normalize him! Don’t the sheeple see what’s going on!

But I’m not so sure. Because if it’s a “normal” election, there are a bunch of fundamentals which are a real problem for the president:

  • He starts out 3 million votes in the hole.
  • He only has one flippable state.
  • With the economy red-hot he’s mostly had his approval number around 42 percent.
  • The economy is showing signs of softness.

In a “normal” election, those things would make the reelect team very, very nervous.

If you jump up to the 30,000 foot view and ignore everything else, my sense is that Trump thrives when there’s chaos. The more abnormal the better. He’s got a base so solid that he knows he can deliver 36 percent of the vote even if the world was ending and he can do and say anything without worrying about losing them.

Chaos creates opportunity and the wackier things are in the world, the less he seems like an outlier.

If you’re Donald Trump’s team, then I’m not sure you look at a “normal” 2020 race and see it as a good thing.

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