Elaine Thompson, Associated Press
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in Seattle, March 22, 2017. He's considering running as an independent, a prospect that could draw support away from the eventual Democratic nominee and hand President Donald Trump another four years in office, many fret.

It’s too early to tell if Howard Schultz deserves a seat in the White House, but he is starting the right kind of conversations that voters and lawmakers should have ahead of the 2020 election.

Schultz, American billionaire and former CEO of Starbucks, made news Sunday by announcing on 60 Minutes he’s “seriously considering” a 2020 run for president as a "centrist independent." Liberal pundits pounced at once to decry his decision, predicting he would siphon off Democratic votes and clear the path for President Trump. Conservative voices have largely been silent on the matter.

But whether the numbers add up or whether he’s running to appease an ego are the wrong questions for the country right now. The focus ought to be on his reasons for exploring a run — putting principles before politics.

Schultz told correspondent Scott Pelley on Sunday that “both parties are consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged every single day in revenge politics.”

That sentiment will likely resonate with millions of Americans, especially as the country pulls out of its longest partial government shutdown. The mood during the 35-day crisis was that politics — the winner-loser kind of toxic partisanship — stood in the way of any meaningful progress.

Indeed, a consistently pitiful amount of Americans approve of Congress’ job performance. That may explain why independents outnumber those who affiliate with either the Republican or Democratic parties. The latest data from Gallup show 39 percent of Americans reject both major parties, while only 25 percent identify as Republicans and 34 percent as Democrats. With few exceptions, this trend has held steady since 2004.

Schultz is banking on that logic to win if he runs as an independent. However, the bigger takeaway is that Americans would prefer to see the country governed issue by issue rather than through the oiled machines of political parties.

" Americans would prefer to see the country governed issue by issue rather than through the oiled machines of political parties. "

Bipartisan criminal justice reforms from December show what that kind of governing looks like. Republican Sen. Mike Lee from Utah teamed up with an unlikely crew — Cory Booker, D-N.J., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — to make the first substantive changes to drug-related offenses since the 1990s. Despite fissures within their own parties, the group found like-minded people and pushed forward without regard for partisanship.

Naturally, there are good people of principle in both parties, noted Schultz at an event on Monday, but those members are unable to do what they think is right because of the prospect of losing their next primary, he said.

Why should the promise of winning be a prerequisite for injecting good ideas into the public debate? That needs to change.

No party is entitled to an unobstructed path to the presidency. Nothing in the Constitution says the country should huddle around two sets of ideas. America is at her best when thoughts flow freely and everyone has a chance to chime in.

42 comments on this story

Maybe a third-party candidate could build the right connections to make coalition governing the new norm. More realistically, however, it will take voters who accept accountability for their role in the democratic process. Siding with a party because it encompasses your way of thinking is one thing, but choosing one party simply because it’s less worse than the other is not a solution.

Gathering like-minded people across the political spectrum should be possible, and it needs to happen more frequently if the country wants the real debate and progress it’s calling for.