The Most Important Election in Our Lifetime, Just Like All the Others

After returning home from quite a number of trips to Italy, my wife and I have always talked about bringing the delightful coffee experience to this country. Howard Schultz, CEO Emeritus of Starbucks, did it. Coffee zealots and even casual caffeine addicts will suggest that he did not do it well, but few will deny that he did it successfully.

Now Schultz wants to run for President and there is a high likelihood that he will do that neither well nor successfully, though I would put higher odds on him contributing thoughtful practical ideas than on winning. His problem is that he does not want to run in his own Democratic party or – perish the thought — as a Republican. He wants to run as an independent and skip all the primary/caucus/convention crap.

Creating Starbucks is different from running for President. When Schultz started his company, there was almost no competition in high-end coffee. An independent run for President will require him to go head to head with the election industry, an entrenched duopoly that, above all else, wants to keep being a duopoly.

Let’s rip off the Band-Aid right up front. “Above all else” is the key phrase in the previous paragraph and it is intentionally inflammatory. The election industry cares far less about competing policy ideas than it cares about controlling the election process.

Here (thanks to Axios) are two quotes from leading election industry players.

“He can’t win, and he could seriously damage our ability to beat Donald Trump. He should either run as a Democrat, or spend his time and money doing something that won’t ruin the world.” – Jim Messina, former President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.  Jim, would it be more accurate to say “ruin the world” or “ruin your world?”

“Howard Schultz is a jackass. … He’s arrogant and wealthy — and those people tend to not see the world as it is.” – Philippe Reines, Democratic campaign strategist and major figure in Hillary land. Ahhhh, Philippe what would happen if we replaced the words Howard Schultz with Hillary Clinton?

Those quotes are some pretty serious rhetoric but they are not occasioned by policy differences or even beating Donald Trump. Messina and Reines are outraged by the threat to their livelihoods.

As it happens, we choose the Democratic and Republican nominees for President in what is surely one of the stupidest processes ever devised to select any candidate for any job, to say nothing of the presidency, which is rather an important one.

Eating corn dogs in Iowa; wearing blue jeans and plaid shirts while standing on staged hay bales; eating at a greasy spoon in New Hampshire; even the conventions. You can’t make this up. It is what we do to select a person who has the power to do considerable harm and perhaps even some good.

Stupid as that selection process is, people like Reines and Messina control it and make huge amounts of money from it. To be fair, they are but examples of the election industry not its entirety. There are plenty of others. Do the words Podesta, Manafort and Stone resonate?  Election industry Hall of Famers.

There is an arguable view that most voters are more or less in the middle of the various political debates and that they could happily compromise on most issues, put check marks next to those discussions and get on with their lives. The problem is that these voters are not sufficiently outraged and do not contribute enough to support the election industry in the top 1% style to which it has become accustomed. Hence they must be silenced.

It is entirely legitimate to consider the majority of voters who disapprove of President Trump. If they are split into, for example, a progressive camp and a centrist camp, the President might sneak through to a second term. For some, this is the overriding consideration: first beat Trump then worry about the election process.

Likely that view will prevail amid a barrage of learned “third party candidates can’t win” cable TV comments made by election industry veterans who don’t even want independent candidates to exist let alone win. If so, on current form, we’ll end up with a choice between President Trump and a progressive, perhaps even a zealot.

That contest might not end up any better for the Democrats than did 2016 and they will have missed the chance to hear from any number of pragmatists who might do the job well even if their fans didn’t contribute as much to the aggregate net worth of the election industry.

It is tough to think of a business more in need of disruption than the one that served up such dreadful finalists in 2016. Sadly for all of us, that is also a business that gets to make up all the rules that govern it and, of course it makes those rules for its own benefit.

“But this is the most important election in our lifetime so we can’t risk doing anything different,” say the campaign strategists as they head for the bank. True, just like all the others.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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  • Okay, I get it: You like Howard Schultz, or at least his practical centrist ideas, and you don’t like the current American presidential process in which ideological “bases” screen out practical centrist ideas and the candidates that espouse them. Join the party (or rather non-party) that seems to represent the majority of American voters–like me. But Messina and Reines, however much their statements may be guided by their desire to protect their incomes, are almost certainly right in saying that third party candidates can’t win–at least in 2020. It takes a lot longer than two years to set up a legitimate, clearly branded political party, and primary rules all across the country have been designed by the existing two parties to protect their own interests. So the practical solution for the pragmatic candidate–be in Schultz or Michael Bloomberg (my personal choice)–is to pick one of the two existing parties and attack it, using the Colin Powell rules of engagement: go in with overwhelming force and have a clear exit strategy. So far, I see the Democrats as the likely target because they have no obvious alternative, and in the end, everybody knows that Elizabeth Warren, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and other Democratic Socialists can never win. But I am beginning to sense that the Republican lemmings that have marched lockstep behind DJT are finally beginning to look sideways for their own futures and recognizing exactly where the seaside cliff is. If they start to peel off, centrists may find a better home with them, Trump’s base be damned. Like a good golfer facing a tough shot, however, the centrist who takes on this cause has to commit to the shot. With each passing week, it gets harder and harder to stop party political process from determining the outcome. (Sorry for all the metaphors.)

    • I have no idea if I like Howard Schultz. The Ds want to keep me from finding out. I think the industry screens out centrist ideas by manipulating the bases. Though a third party candidate is unlikely to win he or she might influence the other two. And I would be thrilled if the President had a primary challenger. Though I might view the process and the participants as more malign than you do, I think we are pretty much in sync.