Many Democrats welcomed news of a possible independent presidential bid by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz with alarm, warning that he’s likely to help re-elect President Donald Trump by splitting the Democratic vote in 2020.
But at least one prominent Democrat appears to be aiding the billionaire as he weighs throwing his hat into the race as an independent.
Bill Burton, a political consultant who previously served as deputy White House press secretary for President Barack Obama, is joining Schultz’s team as a top aide and communications strategist, according to The Washington Post’s Robert Costa.
Burton did not immediately return a request for comment from HuffPost.
Schultz, a self-described “lifelong Democrat,” told “60 Minutes” on Sunday that he’s “seriously” mulling a run for president as a “centrist independent, outside of the two-party system.” During the interview, Schultz ripped into the Democratic Party, accusing it of failing to offer a feasible health care proposal. He’s also spoken of addressing the growing national debt in part by cutting entitlement programs.
Schultz is also being advised by Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Before joining the White House, Burton worked as the national press secretary during Obama’s 2008 campaign for president and as communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He later founded the super PAC Priorities USA Action, which made a name for itself during the 2012 presidential campaign with devastating ads depicting then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney as a wealthy and out-of-touch plutocrat.
Burton wrote an op-ed published by The Sacramento Bee in August 2016 warning about the dangers of running as a third party spoiler against Trump.
“If [Jill] Stein or Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson eat into Clinton’s support even a little, that could matter in a close election. And in the same way I would bet that Ralph Nader – or at least many of his supporters – wishes that he didn’t help to make George W. Bush our 43rd commander in chief, I suppose Stein supporters would not want to be in the position of explaining to their kids how they helped make Trump president,” Burton wrote.
Several top Democrats decried the prospect of a Schultz candidacy over the weekend, saying it would be nothing but good news for Trump. Former Obama Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who recently announced his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Schultz ought to “truly think about the negative impact” of an independent bid.
A spokeswoman for Obama declined to comment on Schultz’s possible candidacy on Monday. The former president rarely weighs in on news of the day, however.
Billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ― who himself is flirting with a 2020 run as a Democrat ― also warned that a third-party candidate would disproportionately threaten the Democratic nominee in 2020.
“In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up re-electing the President. That’s a risk I refused to run in 2016 and we can’t afford to run it now,” Bloomberg said in a statement on Monday.