Many Democrats and liberals are understandably freaking out over reports that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a life-long Democrat, is considering an independent bid for the presidency in 2020. The fears are well-placed. The candidacy of an amply-funded, center-left Democrat might very well split the anti-Trump vote in a November 2020 election and help Trump win re-election in a race that he otherwise might lose. These are not the bed-wetting fears that partisans often have.
My bet though is that Schultz will ultimately not run. I have never met the man and certainly can’t say that for sure. But from everything that I have heard and read about him and after watching him on CBS’s 60 Minutes show last Sunday, he seems like a bright, impressive, highly successful and well-intentioned guy. He obviously has the resources to fund his campaign for the presidency. He seemed frustrated by what he sees as a pronounced and increasing leftward tilt in the Democratic Party.
But my guess is that Schultz will eventually come to the same conclusion that another bright, impressive, highly successful and well-intentioned guy with the resources to fund his campaign, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will. An independent candidate for president can be a spoiler, but not a victor. The challenge for any independent no matter how bright, impressive, highly-successful, well-intentioned and amply-funded they may be is that there are not the 270 Electoral votes needed that are available for an independent to win.
This is not high math, just basic arithmetic. Let’s assume that any state where a nominee can draw 60 percent of the vote, is a safe state for that party. In 2016 Hillary Clinton won the District of Columbia (and its three Electoral College votes) with 90 percent of the vote and four states with at least 60 percent of the vote, a total of 82 Electoral votes: Hawaii (with three Electoral votes) 62 percent, California (55) 61 percent, Maryland (10) 60 percent and Massachusetts (11) 60 percent.
In 2012, President Obama carried DC (three Electoral votes) with 91 percent of the vote along with seven states with 60 percent or more of the vote, with a total of 119 Electoral votes: Hawaii (four) 61 percent, Vermont (three) 67 percent, New York (29) 63 percent, Rhode Island (four) 63 percent, Maryland (10) 62 percent, Massachusetts (11) 61 percent and California (55) 60 percent.
Four years earlier in 2008, Obama won DC (three Electoral votes) with 92 percent, and ten states with 60 percent or more, for a total in current decade Electoral College votes of 149: Hawaii 72 (four) percent, Vermont (three) 68 percent, New York (29) 63 percent, Rhode Island (four) 63 percent, Maryland (10) 62 percent, Delaware (three) 62 percent, Illinois (20) 62 percent, Massachusetts (11) 62 percent, California (55) 61 percent and Connecticut (seven) 61 percent.
From this we can reasonably conclude that just about any Democrat would win D.C and between four and ten states that would total between 82 and 149 Electoral votes.
In 2016 President Trump carried nine states with 60 percent or more, they total 55 Electoral votes: Wyoming (three Electoral votes) 68 percent, West Virginia (five) 68 percent, Oklahoma (seven) 65 percent, North Dakota (three) 63 percent, Kentucky (eight) 63 percent, Alabama (nine) 62 percent, South Dakota (three) 62 percent, Tennessee (11) 61 percent and Arkansas (six) 61 percent.
Four years earlier in 2012, Mitt Romney won ten states with 60 percent or more, a total of 59 Electoral votes: Utah (six Electoral votes) 73 percent, Wyoming (three) 69 percent, Oklahoma (seven) 67 percent, Idaho (four) 64 percent, West Virginia (five) 62 percent, Arkansas (six) 61 percent, Alabama (nine) 61 percent, Kentucky (eight) 60 percent, Nebraska (five) 60 percent and Kansas (six) 60 percent.
In the previous election in 2008, John McCain won five states with 60 percent or more for a total of 23 current decade number of Electoral votes): Oklahoma (seven) 66 percent, Wyoming (three) 65 percent, Utah (six) 62 percent, Idaho (four) 61 percent and Alaska (three) 60 percent.
We can reasonably safely assume that any Republican would win between five and ten states totaling between 23 to 59 Electoral votes.
So, if four to ten states plus DC, with between 82 and 149 Electoral votes are going to go Democratic no matter what, and if Republicans are going to win between five and ten states with somewhere between 23 and 59 Electoral votes, that means that between 105 and 208 out of a total of 538 Electoral votes are simply not available to any independent candidate. How does an independent get 270 Electoral votes under that scenario? They don’t. The independent may well not win any states, but even if they did, and kept each major party’s nominee from getting to the 270 Electoral votes needed for a majority in the Electoral College, the election would get thrown to the U.S. House of Representatives with each state, regardless of population, getting one vote (California one vote, North Dakota one vote).
If you are curious, Republicans have majorities in 26 House delegations: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Meanwhile, Democrats have majorities in 22 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington. Two states have evenly-split delegations, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
If Schultz is as bright, thoughtful and well-intentioned as I think he is, he is going to reach the same conclusion that Michael Bloomberg did, that there is no chance of an independent to win, unless they run and win a major party nomination, as Donald Trump did in 2016. Now whether someone who has made their fortune in the business world can win a Democratic nomination, that is a different question for another column.