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  • Are conservative media egging on potential presidential candidate Howard Schultz just to help Trump? Possibly.

    It says a lot that Schultz’s biggest fans this early on are people on the right.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Over the past week or so, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has become nearly as ubiquitous as the coffee chain itself. As part of the press blitz for his new book, “From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America,” the 65-year-old billionaire and self-described “lifelong Democrat” has been toying with the idea of running for president in 2020 as a “centrist independent.” Many progressives -- and even a number of anti-Trump moderates and conservatives -- worry that Schultz would play the role of spoiler by peeling off enough Democratic votes to re-elect Trump. He’s also been using these press stops to bash proposals like “Medicare-for-all” and free public college, earning him a reception as ice-cold as a Frappuccino from the political left.

    Thankfully for Schultz, there’s one group in media shamelessly encouraging him to take the presidential plunge: the far right.

    It’s hard to say what Schultz supports, as he hasn’t actually come out in favor of a single detailed policy. That hasn’t stopped conservative media from giving him a whole bunch of attention.

    Fox News, in particular, has been a major hub for Schultz fans. He’s been described as “realistic,” as the type of candidate who can get Wall Street’s backing, as someone who is “very cognizant” of what Americans want in terms of health care reform, and as a champion for “people who don’t want to play fantastical economics anymore.” The network has also repeatedly stood up against criticism of his background and billionaire status.

    On his new podcast, former Trump administration communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Schultz and fellow billionaire businessman-turned-politico Michael Bloomberg would both make “phenomenal presidents,” listing them as “the two people who could possibly beat Trump.” Steve Schmidt, a former adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, took a job with Schultz last year. And in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, Tiana Lowe brushed off Democratic criticism that a third-party challenge would aid Trump’s re-election, writing, “If Democrats want to kneecap Schultz's run, they need to offer better than whatever dregs of desperation they're currently putting on the table.”

    Schultz himself has directly boosted right-wing media figures who are encouraging him to run against Democrats. On January 30, Schultz tweeted (and later deleted) a link to a PJ Media editorial by Roger L. Simon. Schultz thanked Simon for what he called “a thoughtful analysis of what's possible.” A quick glance at the article, however, reveals a number of cringeworthy lines attacking Democratic candidates, including referring to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as a “shrill … quasi-socialist promising pie in the sky” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as “Fauxcahontas.”

    Schultz later tweeted a link from the notoriously conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board, which described Democrats’ response to a possible Schultz candidacy as “shrieking like teenagers at a horror movie.” The editorial went on to play up the virtues of having a serious adult in the room to encourage a policy debate, contrasting the 65-year-old billionaire with young progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), “whose claim to fame is winning one election, looking cool on Instagram, and proposing ways to spend other people’s money.”

    It’s extremely unlikely that any of these outspoken conservatives actually want Schultz to win -- and if we’re all being completely honest with ourselves, few likely think he can win.

    You may be asking yourself why people on the far right would promote Schultz’s candidacy if what they really want is Trump’s re-election. Maybe I’m being overly cynical, but I’m pretty sure the answer is already right there in the question: because they want Trump to win re-election. Right-wing commentators are trying to downplay this possibility in their effusive praise of Schultz.

    To get one thing out of the way: There’s virtually no chance of Howard Schultz actually winning in 2020 -- though it would be interesting to see if critics would give him a pass on a “latte salute” or two. National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar bemoaned the “failure of imagination” of pundits saying that Schultz doesn’t have a viable path to 270 electoral votes. The truth is that the Electoral College makes it extraordinarily hard for a candidate outside of the two main parties to win any electoral votes, let alone a majority of them. In 1992, Ross Perot received 19.7 million votes (18.9 percent of the total), but ended up with zero electoral votes as he didn’t carry a single state. In fact, the last time a third-party candidate won any electoral votes was in 1968, when George Wallace took 46.

    It’s not a “lack of imagination” that says Schultz has an espresso bean’s chance in a grinder to win; it’s just reality. Come January 20, 2021, it will almost certainly be Donald Trump being sworn into a second term in office or whomever the Democrats nominate taking over. Sorry, Schultz superfans of the world -- if you exist.

    Democratic megadonor Haim Saban thinks a Schultz campaign “guarantees Trump a second term.” Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at centrist think tank Third Way -- the exact type of person a Schultz campaign would appeal to, if anyone at all -- told NPR that a centrist independent entry into the race could “splinter” opposition to Trump, leading to his re-election. Even Trump thinks Schultz running would help his own chances, per one report.

    The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake recently dissected a Washington Post-ABC poll showing that 56 percent of registered voters will “definitely” not vote for Trump in 2020, lending some credence to the idea that Trump’s re-election odds might hinge on a wild card:

    Trump may not need those 56 percent of voters. He won the presidency, after all, with just 46 percent of the popular vote — about two points higher than the 44 percent who are at least open to supporting his reelection. He could win with even less of the vote if a third-party/independent candidate, like former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz, splits the vote three ways.

    There’s also the possibility that Schultz himself doesn’t even think he can win, but just wants to incentivize the Democrats to avoid nominating the likes of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or some other candidates with tax hikes for the rich in exchange for an expanded social safety net.

    In an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin, Schultz explained, “I respect the Democratic Party. I no longer feel affiliated because I don’t know their views represent the majority of Americans. I don’t think we want a 70 percent income tax in America.” (He was referencing Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent on income more than $10 million per year.)

    He later added, “If I decide to run for president as an independent, I will believe and have the conviction and the courage to believe I can win. I can’t answer that question today. But I certainly am not going to do anything to put Donald Trump back in the Oval Office.”

    If conservative journalists truly believe that a Schultz campaign will throw the 2020 election to Trump, it’s in their best interests to convince him to run. By his own words, the only way to do that is to tell him that he has a legitimate shot. Schultz has been citing the stat that “about 42 percent of the electorate affiliate themselves as an independent.” That figure has been key in Schultz’s argument that he has a real chance at winning. Unfortunately, this confidence seems to be based on a misreading of what that data actually says.

    In an article for FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley breaks down just how misleading that figure is:

    Gallup shows that roughly 39 percent of Americans say they’re independents — it also signals a fundamental misunderstanding of how the electorate really feels. And that’s because once you subtract independents who lean more toward one party, the number of true independents shrinks to around 10 percent. Using this metric, Gallup finds that roughly 88 percent of Americans identify with one of the two major parties, and Pew Research puts that figure even higher, at 92 percent.

    It’s also worth noting that “independent” is not synonymous with “centrist” or “moderate.” Some self-described independents may be further to the left than the Democratic Party, or further to the right than the Republican Party. It would seem that Schultz’s calculation in all of this is totally wrong, or maybe, as my cynicism-poisoned mind might suggest to me: This is all just a game of chicken between him and the Democratic Party to try to shift its economic priorities to the right.

    Whether or not Schultz runs for president, and no matter what his intentions actually are in making that run, it’s good to take partisan media figures contemplating his potential candidacy with a grain of salt.

  • After Parsing Her Every Word, Press Now Demands Hillary Clinton Be Less Scripted

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The Beltway media's theater critics posted their latest Hillary Clinton notices after she appeared at a political event in the important swing state of Iowa over the weekend. Bypassing substance as they now routinely do, scribes focused on style and many found it lacking: Too scripted!  Clinton, the commentators complained, didn't come across natural enough. She lacked the charm of her husband, her body language was off, and so were her fashion choices.  

    "She cautiously enunciates each word from her prepared text, even the jokes," wrote Roger Simon at Politico. "She is careful, modulated, meticulous. She is Hillary." (Simon suggested Hillary's outfit was too formal for the Iowa event, as well.)  

    MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough denounced Clinton as a "robot" with "no creativity, no spontaneity, nothing from the heart." Daily Beast editor John Avlon said on CNN that while Clinton was "urgent, important, and well-scripted," she nonetheless has to worry about "the connection question" and paled in comparison to her husband: "It's the natural versus the professional."

    There's something deeply ironic about Hillary's drama coaches in the press doling out direction for her public appearances. It's ironic because some of the people and outlets hounding Hillary to be less scripted today -- to be more candid - were among those who spent the summer bemoaning Hillary's unscripted and candid comments. They're the same ones who dissected her every utterance and announced them to be both lacking and deeply troubling.  

    Recall the dominant theme of the media's gaffe-obsessed coverage from Hillary's book tour was, quite often, 'Oh my God, I can't believe she just said that.' And now they're deducting points for Clinton not being open enough?

    The summer coverage continued the Beltway press' long tradition of parsing portions of Clinton comments often taken from hours worth of long-form interviews, spinning one phrase in the most unappealing way, and then announcing Clinton's word choice and "tone" was all wrong. (CNN even altered a Hillary quote this summer to make it more incriminating and newsworthy.)

    It's sort of the Goldilocks approach to campaign journalism: 'Hillary's too hot. No, she's too cold. Why can't she just get it just right?'

  • Politico Columnist Claims Obama "Ignored" Immigration Issues He Already Tried To Address

    ››› ››› ELLIE SANDMEYER

    Politico's Roger Simon distorted President Obama's record to claim that his request for emergency funding to deal with the recent flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the border was tantamount to waking "from a deep slumber ... to fight a problem he has ignored for years." In reality, Obama has supported legislation in the past that addressed many of the underlying issues but the legislation has been blocked by the GOP.

  • Right-Wing Media's Latest Embarrassment: Obama Lied About Birthplace To Get Ahead

    Blog ››› ››› SOLANGE UWIMANA

    On the heels of what some in conservative media circles are heralding as a "breakthrough" story and "journalism in its purest form" -- the Breitbart.com piece highlighting a 1991 pamphlet that erroneously listed President Obama's birthplace as Kenya -- Rush Limbaugh entertained the "thought-provoking theory" on Friday that Obama is actually the one who started the birther conspiracies to take advantage of an "affirmative action opportunity that was available only to those born in Africa."

    Limbaugh stated that he agreed with this premise and that the final takeaway from all of this was that "the guy" -- Obama -- "will exaggerate, make it up, lie, what have you. That's the lesson to be learned here."

    It's unclear where this "theory" originated, but Limbaugh was referring to a piece posted at Pajamas Media on Friday by Roger Simon, who purported to guide readers through the "mystery of the Kenyan birth" and offered several "explanations" for why the pamphlet, published by Obama's former literary agency in 1991, said Obama was "born in Kenya." He ultimately concluded that "the agent's source for Obama's birthplace was... Barack Obama." Simon went on to write:

    Why would he lie about where he was born?

    Well, he might have wanted to glamorize his past, but if that's so, it's pathetic. I suspected there was a more substantive reason, one that would cause him to leave his African birth place in place in the bio. But to take the risk of being found out, it would have to be strong.

    [...]

    What if, we thought, as others have suggested, the reason Obama's school records have not surfaced is that he enrolled, at one of those institutions at least, as a foreign student -- a Kenyan?

    But why would he choose to do that? Well, maybe for a grant, a subvention, a scholarship that was available uniquely to students from Africa or similar locales.

    Yes, I know that's not "fair," in the lexicon of the Lord of Fairness, to have adopted a phony identity and deprived others of an opportunity they may have more richly deserved. But it would certainly fit with Obama's early need to be recognized as a Kenyan by his agent and, presumably, his publisher. As we all know, it's not the crime, but the cover-up. (In this case, actually, it's both.)

    As time went on, of course, college drifted away and politics reared its head. The Kenyan identity became less necessary, even a liability, so it was dropped.

    I don't know about you -- but this makes sense to me. It also fits with the tomb-like silence around his college years.

    But I could be wrong.

    The conservative Powerline blog, which Limbaugh cited, jumped on Simon's thread, calling the theory "intriguing" and "thought-provoking."

    Sadly, there is nothing "intriguing" or "thought-provoking" about entertaining conspiracies that are being pulled, as far as I can tell, from the air -- especially when so many holes have been poked into this particular birther bubble:

  • Will media flip out over Sen. Coburn's "die sooner" claim?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Remember how the media flipped out when Rep. Alan Grayson said the GOP's health care plan was: "Don't get sick, and if you do get you do get sick, die quickly"? NBC Nightly News covered it, with anchor Brian Williams calling the comment "incendiary" and noting that Republicans wanted him to apologize. Politico's Roger Simon said Grayson is "like a guy on crack who is always searching for a bigger high."

    CNN's Howard Kurtz claimed Grayson benefitted from a "media double standard" -- that Grayson's comment drew less criticism than GOP Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during President Obama's address to congress.

    Well, if Kurtz is right about media double standards, there should be a huge media firestorm over Republican Sen. Tom Coburn's statement yesterday that under the Democratic health care plan, seniors will "die sooner." Seems pretty unlikely to me, but we'll see.

  • Roger Simon needs a new pro-Palin talking point. His is broken.

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Politico's Roger Simon continues shilling for Sarah Palin on Hardball, where, among other things, he defended her from criticizing for quitting by pointing out that "Bob Dole quit."

    Sigh.

    That was a dumb point when Simon first made it nearly a month ago, and it remains dumb.

    Let's recap:

    Bob Dole left the Senate after he had already wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination, and with just a few months remaining before the general election. Sarah Palin quit Alaska's governorship nearly three years before the first 2012 primary will occur. Bob Dole had served Kansas in Congress for more than 30 years. Sarah Palin had been governor for 2 years. They just aren't comparable situations.

    And after Dole quit, he lost the general election.

    So what, exactly, does saying "Bob Dole quit" add to the conversation?

    UPDATE: It gets dumber. Simon, later in the broadcast: "Bob Dole gave up his US Senatorship in 1996 to run for president. The party didn't care... he got the nomination."

    Once again: Bob Dole had already wrapped up the nomination when he resigned. Roger Simon, who was "standing right there" when Dole did it, should probably know that.

    UPDATE 2: And just for the record, a lot of people think, and thought at the time, that Dole made a mistake in giving up his Senate seat, because it eliminated his ability to make news in an official, rather than political, capacity. That's a Dole-Palin comparison that makes logical and factual sense (which doesn't mean Palin's resignation will play out the same way.) Simon's comparison of the two does not; it's the kind of false and nonsensical line you see a politician's supporters make when they don't have any good arguments. Except in this case, it's journalist Roger Simon who keeps pulling it out.

  • Better political columnists, please

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Politico's Roger Simon, suggesting Sarah Palin is the victim of some sort of double-standard:

    But you can see why some in the media were shocked and dismayed. Imagine abandoning your office! Imagine quitting and deserting the voters who elected you!

    Though this is what Bob Dole did in 1996, didn't he? Dole resigned his Senate seat to run for president. I remember it. I was standing right there when he did it. And I don't recall anybody accusing him of being a quitter.

    Well, I do. But even if I didn't, it wouldn't take long to find that example: it's the second result you get when you search Yahoo for "Dole quitter."

    Besides, the comparison is insane. Dole quit the Senate so he could devote his full attention to the last few months of a presidential campaign in which he had already wrapped up the Republican nomination. Sarah Palin quit Alaska's governorship to ... to do what? The Republican nomination won't even be decided for three years. She hasn't said what she's doing next.

    So the two situations are pretty much nothing alike. And people did call Dole a quitter. Other than that, Roger Simon's suggestion that the situations are the same and that nobody called Dole a quitter is spot-on.

    More Simon:

    Doesn't she know that the highest form of political communication today is to exactly regurgitate a speech written for you by a speechwriter who has crafted, vetted and polled every phrase, line and word?

    But listen to Palin. Listen to how "rambling" and "disjointed" she is. Once upon a time in American politics, this was known as being "plain-spoken," but that time has gone. An entire industry of political consultants has grown up to make sure politicians are never plain-spoken.

    Oh, come on. Nobody is criticizing Palin because her quitting speech didn't soar like Mario Cuomo's 1984 Democratic convention speech. They're criticizing her because her speech didn't make any sense. She wasn't "plain-spoken," she was nonsensical. She mixed metaphors. She denounced the "quitter's way out" while quitting. She claimed to have explained why she was quitting after having done nothing of the kind. Her speech was marked by circular logic, an aggressive hostility to the English language, and a stilted delivery that suggested she was struggling to remember the proper order of a series of disjointed phrases -- except that it turns out that was the way she wrote the speech.

    If Palin had been "plain-spoken," people would have known what she was saying -- why she was quitting, what she was doing next. That's an essential element of being plain-spoken.