Howard Schultz, lifelong Democrat and, at least for several decades, a billionaire, is thinking of running for president as an independent.
According to Axios, a Schultz adviser stated that:
“In the latest Gallup data, 39% of people see themselves as independents, 34% as Ds and 25% as Rs.
The adviser said research by the Schultz team shows a centrist independent would draw evenly from the Republican and Democratic nominees, and bring Trump down to a ‘statistical floor of 26-27-28 percent.’”
But hello, Schultz Adviser: the problem with your guy’s would-be candidacy is the Electoral College system. On a national level an independent, especially one willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars out of a personal fortune ten times that amount, might harbor some hope of finishing first in a national three-person race, assuming that the Democratic and Republican nominees offered little appeal to the huge middle of the electorate.
But it is very unlikely that an independent would do well in the Electoral College. Most probable is that the independent who is a former Democrat, like Schultz, would guarantee the electoral victory to the incumbent.
The reason is that no independent can finish first in the solidly red states that comprise about 230 electoral votes for the Republican. The margins for the Republican nominee, whoever that is, are simply too big to be threatened by an independent, especially one who used to be a Democrat.
The Republican path to victory then runs through Florida, with 29 electors, leaving only 11 to be gained from multiple means – just Pennsylvania, just Michigan, or Wisconsin plus one of the three ways to get a single elector in Maine. If the independent ran strongly in these states, then perhaps the Republican nominee would not prevail in Pennsylvania or Michigan. But the Republican needs just the 11 more if Florida is the red bag of states.
Meanwhile the independent’s candidacy makes it nearly impossible for the Democratic nominee to get to 270. The Democratic base of electors is only about 211 electors, drawn mostly from solidly blue states like California, New York, and the combination of states in New England. An independent probably will gain the most votes from these states—and will need to do so to be competitive in the irrelevant national tally.
If the independent finishes first in any of the typically blue states, there aren’t enough electors in the swing states to give the Democrat, with a diminished base, a way to get to 270 electors.
If the independent somehow manages to stop the Republican from winning a plurality in Florida, then possibly the Republican also cannot get to 270 electors.
But here’s the kicker. If the Republican and Democratic nominee each fail to get to 270 electors, even if Schultz amazes everyone by winning the meaningless national tally, the House of Representatives then chooses the president.
Every state delegation has one vote. An untested constitutional issue is whether the votes would be cast by the existing House or the newly elected House. Currently, Republicans control a majority of state delegations, and they might well retain that position after 2020. For that reason, resort to the House would probably favor the Republican nominee.
Therefore, the Republican nominee will probably win the presidency.
Someone might want to encourage Howard Schultz to bankroll the ballot initiatives that in many states can let the people decide whether they want the popular vote winner always to be president. Then his candidacy could possible lead to his victory in 2020. Otherwise, with the current, crazy, antedated, anti-democratic system, he can do no more than guarantee victory for the Republican nominee.