Howard Schultz takes the middle ground on health care

Howard Schultz’s independent run for president, if it occurs, will be based on his view that there is a vast amount of space between the two political parties and that voters will flock to a candidate who fills that space. The first proposition is certainly true. The second remains to be tested.

Yesterday, Schultz stepped into the space between the parties on health care. He denounced Sen. Kamala Harris’ call for an end to the health insurance industry. Schultz called the idea “not American.” He then asked: “”What’s next? What industry are we going to abolish next? The coffee industry?” (There are better arguments against Harris’ plan, but let’s leave that aside).

Schultz then took aim at the Republican position on health care:

The Republicans want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. I don’t agree with that. The Affordable Care Act should stay and it should be refined.

This led to Schultz’s core pitch:

This is exactly the situation, it’s far too extreme[] on both sides, and the silent majority of America does not have a voice. That’s the voice I want to give.

Are there Democratic alternatives to Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, etc. who would embrace the kind of middle ground positions Schultz favors? The New York Times takes up the question in an article called “Is There Room in 2020 for a Centrist Democrat? Maybe One or Two.”

Who might these “centrists” be? The Times identifies Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Mitch Landrieu, John Hickenlooper, Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado; and smattering of House members.

Of the names on this list, only Biden seems like a realistic nominee. And it’s far from clear that he will run.

It’s also questionable whether most of these people are centrists or, in any event, would run as such. The Times admits that “in most cases, these Democrats are framing their moderate instincts in terms of political process — stressing their willingness to cooperate with Republicans — or fiscal and economic concerns, including sensitivity to private business and government debt.” On issues like guns, abortion, and gay rights, which once divided the party, they side with the left. To be fair, it may be that Schultz does too.

According to the Times, polls suggest that somewhere between a third and half of Democratic voters see themselves as moderates. This sort of self-identification is pretty meaningless, I think. However, if one were to combine moderates with traditional liberal who reject both identity politics and socialism, you might get to 50 percent of those who will participate in the primaries and caucuses.

Thus, the Times is probably right to this extent — in theory, there is room for one or two non-hard left Democrats in 2020. Translating that room into a successful non-hard left run through the primaries is another matter.

Howard Schultz is wise not to undertake the effort. It’s reasonable for him to assume the Democrats will nominate a hard leftist and for him to prepare accordingly (assuming he’s really serious about running). If the Dems surprise us, Schultz can consider his options.

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