When former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz first declared that he was entertaining the idea of running for president, he was ubiquitous on the political scene, sitting for interviews with major outlets, appearing at buzzy conferences, and making various stops for a book tour across the country in which he’d persistently tease his White House ambitions.
But in the past two weeks, Schultz has largely disappeared, leaving the impression that the presidential campaign he was flirting with won’t actually come to fruition.
His aides say that’s not the case. Bill Burton, a senior Schultz adviser, said that Schultz was still considering a bid and remained committed to the timeframe he had offered for a formal decision, which should come sometime “in the late spring or early summer.”
“It is a long time until election day 2020 and there are a lot of that inputs that Howard it is going to consider before he makes his decision,” Burton said.
But if Schultz is still gathering inputs before he makes his final determination, he is doing so privately. He has not made a public appearance since going to Arizona to talk about border security and the economy in late April. He was scheduled to visit Utah and to talk at the NationSwell Summit on Solutions in San Francisco and to tour and appear in conversation at the EarthX Energy Expo in Dallas. But those events were cancelled.
Erin McPike, a spokesperson for Schultz, said there was a simple reason for these canceled events: he was “taking a break while he is recovering from back surgery.” That would place Schultz in some well-known company. Rick Perry was hobbled during his ill-fated 2012 campaign because of his own back ailments.
But Schultz has also dialed down the elements of his campaign prep that don’t actually require public appearances. He has not posted to Facebook or Instagram since April 30. His last missive was on how leaders make decisions "through the lens of personal beliefs” which included a photo of a chess board, a French press, a cup of coffee and a diary with the phrase "success is best when it's shared" written in black sharpie marker.
According to Facebook's ad archives, Schultz has not run an ad on the platform since April 23, when his account posted a spot that declared "It's Time To Un-Partisan.” Since Easter, Schultz has tweeted just twice. The first was to promote an op-ed he wrote on his trip to Arizona. That was on April 29. The second, and last, tweet came on Monday, when he tweeted a winky emoji at someone wondering if he was a character in Game of Thrones, after a cup of Starbucks was mistakenly included in a scene of the popular HBO show.
And it’s not just Schultz. Neither Steve Schmidt, his top adviser, nor Burton have tweeted since late January.
“The next president is not going to be decided on Twitter,” Burton said. “I would think if you looked at what he is doing publicly it stacks up with a lot of people engaged in the national conversation.”
That was once true. In the beginning of April, the Schultz media team was sending out statements on various relevant issues and informing reporters about upcoming events like his Fox News town hall in Kansas City, Missouri. After that, Schultz initiated a “Heart of America” tour that took him to Kansas. That same week, his team sent out a statement about Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) Medicare for All proposal and sent a dispatch about his travels including information about Kansas farmers’ lives being impacted by Trump trade policies. The tour then headed to Arizona where it appears stopped—at least for now—because of his surgery.
There has been one major development that happened in the 2020 election since Schultz’s trip to Arizona: the formal entrance of former Vice President Joe Biden into the Democratic primary. Biden is an establishment figure with a lengthy record that places him a fair distance away from his party’s ideological left. In short, he’s the very type of candidate that Schultz has said would convince him to ultimately not enter the presidential race. But Burton stressed that the former VP’s presence was not a factor—at least yet—in Schultz’s thinking.
“I think most people presumed that Vice President Biden would get into this race,” he said. “[Schultz] is watching the race develop and seeing what happens.”