Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz threw a curveball into the 2020 presidential election effort when he announced he is considering an Independent bid, something his adviser, Steve Schmidt was recently asked about during a segment on the Words Matter podcast.
Schmidt has served as a Republican campaign operative for President George W. Bush, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and served as a former chief strategist to Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. He opposes President Trump, however.
Historically, Independent efforts split their voter base and allow an easier path to victory for the opposing party. In Schultz’s case, his Independent effort could split the Democratic base away from Democratic contenders and help President Trump get more easily re-elected.
Several Democrats have pressed Schultz not to run, or to at least run in the Democratic primary, so he does not hinder the Democrat Party in the general election. The former CEO has yet to make a decision.
The anti-Trump strategist was pressed on his role in Schultz’s potential campaign effort during the podcast which he helped start.
From the Daily Beast:
Anybody who has watched Schmidt on MSNBC, or saw the portrayal of him in the 2012 HBO movie Game Change, knows that he operates on a pretty short fuse. Just how short, his two longtime friends and podcast partners, Adam Levine and Elise Jordan, found out when they sat down last Tuesday to interview him on their show Words Matter about Schultz’ just announced potential presidential bid and Schmidt’s role as the chief adviser to the Starbucks founder in it.
Jordan, an alum of the George W. Bush White House and the Rand Paul presidential campaign, outlined the ground rules that everything would be on the record, and that Schmidt would be treated no differently than any other guest even though he was a founder of Words Matter, along with Jordan and Levine, another Bush veteran and media pro who’d worked with NBC superstar Tim Russert. Things were tense. Schmidt had said that he wouldn’t be involved in any presidential campaign, but that he would be leading a 501c4 dedicated to building a third party movement funded by Schultz, “movement” being the key word in their mind. He gave no heads-up to Jordan and Levine about Schultz’s announcement.
Schmidt railed at having to defend himself on his podcast with a stream of curses a source present in the studio said consumed six minutes. Told that listeners were castigating him for joining an effort that could help re-elect President Trump and that he owed them answers, Schmidt finally settled down enough to take about 30 minutes to answer questions from Jordan, normally his co-host, and Levine, the executive producer.
The two current hosts pressed the podcast’s founder on how Schultz could potentially win the presidential election. At first, Schmidt shrugged the questions and said Schultz was not actually running, but was still considering it.
“This is not Trumpistan,” Schmidt said, noting other candidates are freely allowed to run against the president. He then clarified Schultz did not formally announce a run and the idea is so far just a “speculative effort.”
The hosts then pressed Schmidt again, which resulted in him reportedly slamming down his headset and walking off:
Levine asks about the 70-percent marginal tax rate proposed by Warren that Schultz called ridiculous. “Yes, ridiculous, confiscatory, anti-growth,” Schmidt says.
That prompts Levine to ask the question that evidently hits a nerve. “Will Derek Jeter or another athlete not hit another home run because they’re going to get taxed at 70? What’s the economic behavior that he thinks is anti-growth, other than his own pocket?”
“This is bullshit,” Schmidt exclaims. “I’m not doing this.”
“Steve, you’ve got to answer the questions,” Levine says.
“I’m not,” and with that Schmidt slams down his headset and abruptly ends the interview. He threatened legal action against the studio if the interview airs, according to a source involved in the discussion. When his legal threat failed, he offered to buy the recording, according to the source. The studio refused.
In a statement to the Daily Beast, Schmidt said: “My objection is not on a tough question. It’s the surreality of having a podcast hijacked from me. Until this recording, I had always thought this was Elise’s and my podcast.”
“I think he thought it would be a softball interview,” Levine said about Schmidt, per the report. “I love him, I hope he’s OK, but what he did is antithetical to the mission of Words Matter. After everything he said about Donald Trump in the past two years, he’s part of an effort that could lead to Trump’s reelection.”
The explosive interview also changed the course of the show moving forward as Jordan announced over Twitter that she would be stepping away from the podcast.
Despite the dust-up, Jordan told The Daily Beast it is “a sad day in 2019 when a female co-host who is supposed to be an equal partner in a business is cut out of a key decision.”
Asked for his response, Levine then emailed “Elise wanted to interview Steve on this topic and we collaborated on the interview, and the last time I spoke to her she was fully supportive of the interview going out, so I don’t know what key decision she is referring to. As far as my position in the company, I am the founder and executive producer of the podcast and have been since Day 1.”
Hours later, Jordan—who later said the key decision she’d been referring to was Levine naming himself founder and CEO—tweeted Friday evening that she was also leaving Words Matter.
Note: The author of this article has included commentary that expresses an opinion and analysis of the facts.