Based on the “spoiler” role that third-party candidates have played in Presidential elections, Democrats are rightly concerned that Howard Schultz, if he were to run as an Independent presidential candidate, could split the anti-Trump vote in 2020 and ensure a second term for Donald Trump. Under the current system, this “disaster” (from the Democratic perspective) is a real possibility. It overrides any consideration of the merits of his candidacy.

However, Shultz can singly-handily eliminate this potential disaster, and this avalanche of criticism, right from the outset of his campaign. All it takes is him to declare that he is “Running only to win.” This means that he commits, up front, to exit the race if he has no path to an electoral college victory after a period of active campaigning.

In other words: What if Schultz’s desire to fix American politics is, ultimately, nearly as important as becoming president? What if he “Runs-to-win” but his fallback is “Run-to-fix”?

Election Reform Hero?

Schultz has criticized both the Democratic and Republican parties for engaging in “revenge politics” and “a reckless failure to their constitutional responsibilities.” “I want to see America win,”  he declared on 60 Minutes in announcing his consideration of a presidential bid.

Given this, we believe that Schultz is a natural ally for the set of structural reforms that are working their way through municipal and state politics. Some people are aware of some of them; not many people are aware of all of them. Currently, the two reforms with the most recognition are gerrymandering reform and the need to place limits on the corrupting influence in money in politics.

Schultz can be a “reform hero” by spotlighting a powerful third type of reform that is starting to move into the mainstream conversation: Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). Since 2005, 15 cities have passed ranked choice voting. In 2018, Maine successfully employed it at the state level.  

There is no reason why the benefits demonstrated by these initial applications of RCV wouldn’t apply at the presidential level in 2019-2020 were Schultz to “self impose” it on his own candidacy. The benefits are compelling:

  • Voting for who you support, not who you oppose – without “vote splitting”
  • Increasing voter participation and engagement
  • Discouraging negative campaigning
  • Moving candidates and platforms toward pragmatic solutions, not ideology

Watch the video below to learn more about Ranked Choice Voting


Given the realities of the electoral college, the current advocates for RCV see its applications most clearly at the state level, and perhaps for major party primaries in a couple of election cycles. However, Schultz can unilaterally accelerate the process by pledging to abide by its rules in his presidential bid. If the polls show that he has no plausible path to an electoral college victory, by dropping out he is saying, in effect, “Vote your second choice.”

Would Schultz Self-Impose Ranked Choice Voting?

Many believe that a “delusional” ego is driving Schultz’s bid. Given this, they view such a selfless move (such as dropping out of the race, once committed) as unlikely. But is this true?

Could it be that his desire to fix American politics is nearly as important as becoming president?  what if he “Runs-to-win” but his fallback is “Run-to-fix”?

The Deck is Stacked Against Schultz & Yet…

There is no shortage of reasons why Schultz “cannot” win in any presidential bid. Three of the most persuasive are the following.

  • Few Americans are really independent. Although 39 percent of American say they are independents, about 90 percent of these identify with one of the two major parties. This is important because, if we include independent leaners with the party they prefer, 92 percent of Republicans and Democrats backed their respective party nominees in 2016.
  • The Electoral College is a winner-take-all system. It has been more that 50 years since a third-party candidate has carried a single state in a presidential election (George Wallace in 1968). Looking at this barrier from a “solution perspective,” Electoral College reform is another reform Schultz could highlight.
  • There are few voters in the category that Schulz represents. Some analysis shows only 3 percent of voters in the “fiscally-conservative-socially-liberal” category versus 26 percent in the opposite that helped elect Trump (fiscally-liberal-social-conservative).

And yet…

  • A so-called  “law” in political system theory states that voters are loath to “waste” their votes on a third-party candidate unlikely to win. If Schultz is able to make a convincing commitment to drop out before election day, if unelectable, this restriction of voter preferences wouldn’t be relevant.
  • As Nick Troiano (Executive Director of Unite America) has observed “If Schultz commits to running only to win, then the worst-case scenario is him spending the next 21 months elevating our political discourse, talking honestly about the issues we face and bringing our country together. In a competitive three-way contest, no longer can each candidate simply wage zero-sum warfare against the other; they must stand for something and earn each American’s vote.”

The Disconnect Between Winning & Governing

As a self-financed independent, Schultz is in a unique position to run on a “structural reform” platform.  He can help us confront the reality of what we already know: The tactics best suited to win elections differ markedly from the process needed to govern effectively.

How to Win Elections How to Govern Effectively
Focus on ideology to appeal to the most partisan primary activists. Do the hard work of pragmatic bipartisan solutions.
“Promise anything” as a candidate, consistent with the ideology. Officials know that the electorate will hold them accountable for “promises kept/promises broken.”
Meet a low standard: “At least we are not as bad as them.” (Campaign on negativity) Meet a higher standard: “We are capable enough to solve problems (and have the track record to prove it).”

Of course, it is easier to describe problems than to fix them. That is why we founded Change the Rules. A set of reforms are already working largely under the radar. Learn more at Change the

At Change the Rules, we have argued extensively for the need for “outside-in” change to fixing our broken political system so we can finally break the hold of the two-party monopoly. Want to learn more? Visit our website.

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson/AP


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