Howard Schultz is pretending to run for president. He is doing all the running for president things—going on TV, releasing a boring book, talking about the deficit—though he surely must know that there is no path to victory for him, that his advisers are telling him there is because that way they’ll keep paying him longer, and that everyone hates him now. It is an undeniable disaster for his Personal Brand.
The question is whether it will end up being a disaster for Starbucks, and whether it deserves to be. It seems the corporation is very worried about this: The Daily Beast reports today that SKDKnickerbocker, a Democratic “public affairs” firm with a very annoying name, is “privately urging top officials in the party to leave Starbucks out” of their criticisms of Schultz’ campaign. One party operative told the Beast the firm is “stressing that it’s not fair to the company” to criticize them for Schultz’ horrible ideas.
The Beast report didn’t specify whether the company was actively directing SKDK to do this, but it did say that the firm “offered to put a top Starbucks executive on the phone to discuss concerns over the politicization of their company in response to a prospective Schultz campaign.” So, it’s safe to say they’re aware, and it seems highly likely they’re paying for this.
The Beast also reported that there are “fears within SKDK that Starbucks’ workers may be economically harmed by the anti-Schultz backlash.” I do not for a second suspect that SKDK people actually give a shit about baristas. But there are definitely a lot of misguided liberals out there who might think that boycotting Starbucks might pressure Schultz not to run—or worse, that lecturing their barista about Howard Schultz and how he’ll get Drumpf re-elected is somehow noble activism. Do not do this; your barista has nothing to do with Howard Schultz and will not be able to relay your concerns to him.
Is it fair, though, to criticize Starbucks for Schultz’ misdeeds? It’s true that he left all positions at Starbucks last June, when he began considering his run for president—it remains baffling to me that he thought about this for more than 10 minutes and still hasn’t realized what a terrible idea it is—but that doesn’t mean Starbucks is entirely irrelevant to his run. After all, it’s how he became a billionaire and why we’re all in this miserable position of sitting through this ill-fated maybe-run in the first place. It’s also true, for example, that under Schultz, Starbucks fought labor unions at its stores. Does that mean Democrats can’t mention that for fear of unfairly tarnishing Starbucks’ brand, even though it’s clearly relevant both to Starbucks workers today and to how Schultz might govern?
Of course it doesn’t. But this wouldn’t be America if there wasn’t an exceptionally well-connected PR firm being paid to make whiny phone calls to politicians just in case someone said something mean about their client.