Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz stopped at the Tempe campus on his book tour and spoke with ASU President Michael Crow on Wednesday amid talk of his potential presidential run in 2020.
The town-hall style event in the Student Pavilion was open to the general public and started after about 30 minutes of promotional ASU videos and a campaign-style video from Schultz urging Americans to follow “country over party.”
Both the video and his book, "From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America," discuss Schultz’s impoverished upbringing which Crow emphasized during the event, telling Schultz that both of them were “Section 8 kids," a reference to the federal government's housing assistance program.
In 2014, Crow and Schultz announced the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a partnership to give Starbucks employees access to ASU’s online degree programs. Schultz referred to the program throughout the discussion and was met with applause from the audience.
Schultz started by describing his personal experiences, from a childhood of poverty and abuse to his time building Starbucks into a global brand. He used both examples to discuss his possible candidacy, noting how Starbucks’ goal “was much bigger, much more aspirational” than simply making money and that a story like his could “only happen in America.”
Although the stop was officially part of his book tour, most of the event focused on his possible run for president, with many of the audience questions being about his potential candidacy and only a handful of books visible in the audience.
Many attendees said they were at the event out of curiosity or that they had heard Schultz was running for president and wanted to learn more.
Schultz outlined the reasons for his interest in a presidential run as a direct opposition to President Donald Trump.
“We just can’t keep going like this,” Schultz said to the audience. “Someone has to stand up and say, 'don’t get desensitized by this.'”
Schultz announced his possible run as a "centrist independent" on 60 Minutes and has since received widespread criticism, especially from Democrats, that his run as an independent could split the vote and lead to Trump's re-election.
When Schultz took questions from the audience, one woman questioned him on the possibility, saying that he could be a “spoiler” and that previous failed presidential candidates, such as Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, demonstrate that an independent is more likely to split the vote than to win.
“I’m not going to do anything to be a so-called 'spoiler' in all of this,” Schultz said, adding that he would run as an independent instead of a Democrat because he doesnt want to "have to be disingenuous" and say things he doesn't believe in to receive the Party's nomination.
Schultz said that if he does run for president, one of his main priorities will be decreasing the national debt. However, when prodded by an audience member and members of the press after the event about his opinion on tax policy, Schultz said that he didn’t have any specific details, as he was “only four or five days” into contemplating a run.
Schultz made it clear in various appearances on news shows and at ASU that he disagrees with many policies supported by current Democratic candidates, such as tuition-free college and Medicare for all, pointing to Sen. Kamala Harris’ recent support of the healthcare plan at a rally in Oakland.
Christine Whitney Sanchez, who is the chief culture officer for the University Technology Office, said before the event that while she was considering Harris as a candidate, she wished Schultz would run as a Democrat, as he would have a good chance of getting the Party’s nomination.
“I am completely in agreement that everything is broken and nothing’s working and we have to find a way, a middle ground,” Sanchez said. “I’m not so sure running as an independent is the way to do that.”
Ethan Buhrow, a sophomore majoring in political science, was less supportive of the former CEO. He said he was attending the event specifically to urge Schultz not to run for president.
“Him running for president as an independent would be literally the worst possible thing for this country that I could imagine,” Buhrow said. “We’re going to have a guy siphoning off votes from the Democratic nominee, potentially, who claims to be a lifelong Democrat.”
Buhrow suggested that Schultz could do more good for the country in other ways by using his wealth to “work to get whoever’s running against Trump elected.”
“If he wants to do something good for the world, (he should) use his money for better,” Buhrow said. “Don’t use it to run for president.”