Howard Schultz, former chief executive of the ubiquitous coffee chain Starbucks, teased a potential third-party White House bid on Sunday, drawing condemnation from Democrats who see a threat to their efforts to unseat President Trump.
“I love our country, and I am seriously considering running for president as a centrist independent,” Schultz wrote on Twitter.
The businessman, whose personal wealth Forbes estimates at $3.4 billion, had publicly identified as a Democrat and had reportedly toyed with seeking the party’s nomination.
Instead, Schultz told the New York Times on Sunday that he had begun efforts to get on the ballot in all 50 states.
When initial reports published in January indicated that Schultz was pondering an independent bid, Democrats in his home state of Washington expressed their blunt displeasure.
“Just. Don’t. If you’re a Democrat, run as a Democrat. Invest in Party infrastructure so we can win the White House, Senate, expand House majorities,” Tina Podlodowski, chair of the Washington State Democrats, said in a tweet directed at Schultz.
Schultz, 65, has been vocal on social and political issues, a rarity for often-cautious corporate leaders. During his tenure, the company undertook initiatives to hire veterans and at-risk youth, backed same-sex marriage and waded into thorny gun politics by asking people not to openly carry firearms in its locations.
Schultz’s emphasis on public service and supporting veterans — as well as his significant personal wealth — stoked speculation about his presidential ambitions.
He has been an outspoken critic of President Trump, blasting the executive order blocking refugees from predominantly Muslim countries. In response, Starbucks announced it planned to hire 10,000 refugees by 2022.
Appearing on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, he criticized Trump as “not qualified” to lead the nation but also went after Republicans and Democrats. He said they were “consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged every single day in revenge politics.”
He declared both major parties have been a “reckless failure” in driving the national debt to more than $21 trillion.
Asked on “60 Minutes” if he worried an independent campaign could siphon votes from the Democratic nominee and help Trump, Schultz didn’t indicate that was a concern.
“I want to see the American people win. I want to see America win,” Schultz said. “I don’t care if you’re Democrat, independent, libertarian, Republican, bring me your ideas and I will be an independent person who will embrace those ideas because I am not in any way in bed with a party.”
On Monday morning, Trump tweeted that Schultz lacked the “guts” to run for president.
Schultz, raised in public housing in Brooklyn, joined the Seattle-based coffee empire when it was a fledgling enterprise in 1982. After leaving briefly to start his own coffee company, he returned in 1987 to serve as chief executive until 2000.
The company struggled after his departure, which Schultz attributed to growing too fast. He came back to lead Starbucks in 2008 and made high-profile moves to turn around the company, including closing more than 7,000 stores one day for barista retraining. He similarly closed all locations in 2018 for an afternoon of racial bias training, after a widely reported incident of discrimination against two black customers in a Philadelphia shop. He officially stepped down that summer.