Jeremi Suri: The Case for Howard Schultz

tags: politics, presidential history, 2020 Election, Howard Schultz

Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a professor of history and public affairs. He is the author and editor of nine books, most recently "The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office." The views expressed here are his. View more opinion on CNN.


In the fall of 2016 Hillary Clinton called on Americans to unite behind her and defeat Donald Trump. It did not work. Similarly, in 1972 George McGovern asked Americans to come together and defeat Richard Nixon. That did not work either. 

Democrats have a terrible record of winning the presidency when they define their mission as defeating a hated adversary and expect voters to fall in line.

The tidal wave of criticism that followed Howard Schultz's recent flirtation with an independent run for the presidency repeats this terrible mistake. Many Democrats fear he will split the strong anti-Trump vote that was evident in the 2018 midterm elections, allowing Trump to get elected again as a minority president in 2020. 

The conventional wisdom among many historians is that this is the effect of third-party candidates: They can divide the more popular party and empower the candidate from the less popular side. The elections in 1912 (Woodrow Wilson), 1968 (Richard Nixon), 1992 (Bill Clinton), 2000 (George W. Bush), and 2016 (Donald Trump) illustrate this dynamic. In each case, a third-party candidate took enough votes from one presidential aspirant to elect the other.

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