What’s a bored billionaire to do when he thinks he has all the answers, would make a great president, yet doesn’t have the guts to run in any party primary?
That question comes up every decade or so.
Back in 2000, New York billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump flirted with the idea of running for president as the Reform Party nominee.
As I wrote in my book Front Row Seat at the Circus:
In 2000, Donald Trump launched a brief campaign for the Reform Party presidential nomination saying, ‘’If the Reform Party nominated me, I would probably win.” In fact, he allowed his name to be considered in order to block former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker—who once called Trump a “dirt bag” and blocked his casino from being built in Bridgeport—from being nominated.
Trump, then a registered Democrat, held some press conferences, and did some interviews about a potential third party run.
In the end, however, it didn’t take much convincing the billionaire that winning 270 electoral votes as a third-party candidate would be a giant waste of time and cash.
After all, Ross Perot had given it a valiant effort eight years earlier.
Perot, a conservative Texas billionaire oilman, spent nearly $20 million of his own money as an Independent.
In certain polls during the early part of 1992, Perot led the three-way race with incumbent President George Bush, and Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas.
Even though he appeared on every state ballot, and qualified for the three presidential debates, he still failed to win a single state and ended up with zero electoral votes.
The thought of an Independent ever beating the established major parties has been a dream for many – especially those, like Perot, who had exceptionally big egos.
Another billionaire, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, thought about running as an Independent in both 2008 and 2016.
Both times he came to his senses.
On Monday, Bloomberg fired a warning shot in the direction of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, saying he shouldn’t mount an independent campaign for president because he could prevent the Democratic Party from defeating President Donald Trump in 2020.
“The data was very clear and very consistent,” said Bloomberg. “Given the strong pull of partisanship and the realities of the electoral college system, there is no way an independent can win.”
Trump himself suggested he would welcome Schultz in the race as a foil, tweeting that he did not have the ‘guts’ to run and was not ‘the smartest.’
Democratic activists have begun to openly suggest boycotting Starbucks, a company in which Schultz maintains significant ownership, until he commits that he won’t disrupt the Democrats’ chances to unify behind a single anti-Trump challenger.
Schultz is serious about doing it, however, hiring former GOP political strategist Steve Schmidt, and Democratic consultant Bill Burton to help shape his forthcoming campaign.
“Schmidt, a former top Republican strategist, helped run George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and the failed 2008 presidential bid by GOP Arizona Senator John McCain. Burton helped run Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and later served as deputy White House press secretary.”
Sunday on ’60 Minutes,’ Schultz suggested that his frustration with America’s two-party political system has him ‘seriously thinking of running for president’ as an independent.
‘I will run as a centrist independent outside of the two-party system,’ he said, speaking in what-if terms.
‘We’re living at a most fragile time,’ Schultz said. ‘Not only the fact that this president is not qualified to be the president, but also the fact 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.’
Even before Schultz’s announcement on CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, one of several Democrats already running for president, complained that a Schultz candidacy “would provide Donald Trump with his best hope of getting reelected.”
Numerous other leading progressives and Democrats followed suit, warning Schultz to take his billions elsewhere.
Schultz’s book launch also got off to a rough start.
Just one day after announcing that he was preparing to run for president as an independent, Schultz had barely begun to speak at a Barnes & Noble in New York when a protester interrupted.
“Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire!” the unidentified bearded man yelled, adding an expletive. “Go back to getting ratioed on Twitter. Go back to Davos with the other billionaire elite who think they know how to run the world.”
Here’s the video. A heckler shouts at Howard Schultz during an event in New York: “Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical, billionaire asshole.” Via CNN pic.twitter.com/oabwfNnsmp
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 29, 2019
Third-party White House runs tend to peel votes away from major-party candidates, splitting the support from one side in a way that benefits the other.
A perfect example happened in the governors race in Arizona in 1986.
The Republican nominee, perennial candidate and used car salesman Evan Mecham, won the top job after Democrat Bill Schulz decided to jump in the race late as an Independent, and split the vote with Democratic nominee Caroline Warner.
Mecham, who would resign in disgrace before facing a recall election the following year, won the three-way race with just 39% of the vote.
Third-party campaigns can also factor in close presidential elections.
Many Democrats accused Ralph Nader of helping deprive then-Vice President Al Gore of the presidency in 2000, and confusion over the Florida ballot may have led some voters into accidentally voting for Pat Buchanan, another third-party candidate.
Similarly, Democrats are still seething at Stein for votes the Green Party candidate collected in Midwestern states that Hillary Clinton narrowly lost to Trump in 2016.
In her book “What Happened,” Clinton, who won the national popular vote, said Stein “wouldn’t be worth mentioning” if not for the votes she garnered in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — crucial Rust Belt states that Trump flipped Republican in his march to the White House.