In the aftermath of Howard Schultz’s announcement that he was considering running an independent presidential campaign, a few names were listed as supporters and strategists. Steve Schmidt was one of them.
Schmidt is a pundit, formerly of MSNBC, who has worked on Republican political campaigns including those of President George W. Bush, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator John McCain. He was the guy who got McCain to choose Sarah Palin as a running mate in 2008, irrevocably pushing the Republican Party to the right. Now, Schmidt has pivoted to a new career as a #NeverTrump former Republican, and he’s involved in Schultz’s absurd campaign defeat the president, somehow.
Schultz’s potential campaign rollout has not gone well, to put it lightly. From hecklers, to Twitter ratios, to condemnation from the Democratic establishment, it seems that no one wants Schultz to run.
Going into the conversation, things were already touchy. Schmidt’s co-host, Elise Jordan and executive producer, Adam Levine—both political operatives who have worked with Republicans and now oppose Trump—were apparently not informed prior to Schultz’s announcement that Schmidt was involved with the potential campaign. Schmidt now says that he won’t be involved in any presidential campaign, but will lead a 501c4 nonprofit to aid Schultz’s “third party movement.”
For their discussion with Schmidt, the Levine and Jordan agreed they would treat their interview like any other, with no opportunity for Schmidt to speak off the record. Things quickly got out of control.
From The Daily Beast:
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 questions from Jordan, normally his co-host, and Levine, the executive producer.
When he wasn’t cursing, Schmidt provided insights like “this is not Trumpistan,” while defending Schultz’s right to run as a third party candidate.
His co-host and producer then begin to nail Schmidt on whether it would even be possible for an independent to get 270 electoral votes in order to win the presidency. He dodged. Then they touched on the 70 percent marginal tax rate proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Schmidt said he agreed with Schultz that the tax is “ridiculous” and will hurt growth.
Levine, to his credit, pushed back: “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 when the shit really hit the fan:
“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.
Explaining his behavior, Schmidt told The Daily Beast, “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.”
Schmidt subsequently announced he’s leaving the podcast. Cohost Jordan also called it quits after accusing her cohost of “[cutting her] out of a key decision.”
“I think he thought it would be a softball interview,” Levine told The Daily Beast, when asked about the interview and fallout. “I love him, I hope he’s okay, 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.”
Listen to the podcast here: