- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2019

He calls himself a “centrist independent” — a semi-distinctive political brand in a very crowded marketplace. That would be billionaire Howard Schultz, on the verge of declaring his candidacy for president as a third-party hopeful.

He’s written a book called “From the Ground Up,” launched a national tour and cited polls which suggest weary Americans now pine for a third party. Mr. Schultz has also attacked the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and the political system, vowing that he’s not a “spoiler” who would re-elect President Trump.

Mr. Schultz seeks to emerge as a defined candidate, even as Vermont independent Sen. Bernard Sanders ramps up his bid for the White House, along with a dozen Democrats. So what about the Schultz “brand”? He appears to be presenting himself as a common-sense, grass-roots kind of guy with an aggressive edge.

“The failed political class of Washington, D.C., has broken America’s political system. And out of that are rising political extremes on both sides,” tweeted Mr. Schultz on Sunday.

He has also borrowed a page out of President Trump’s playbook, ironically enough.

“In the coming weeks, I will lay out my vision for how a centrist independent would govern. I will discuss how we must draw upon the best ideas from all sides, reject revenge politics and assemble an administration that reflects the full diversity of the country, including Democrats, Republicans and independents. I will also share more details about how a centrist independent would address major public policy challenges,” Mr. Schultz wrote in a statement published on Medium.com.

“To the activists and political party surrogates who aim to silence me, or miscast my intentions, I’m going to have an honest conversation with the American people about how we can find common ground and address the crisis of governance facing our country. I’m excited to keep the conversation going, and to spend the coming weeks and months traveling our great country, stopping in places large and small, to listen to — and learn from — the American people. My path forward will not be based on partisans or pundits. I will be most influenced by what I see and hear from my fellow citizens across the country. I want to listen to those whose voices have been drowned out or ignored for far too long,” vows Mr. Schultz.

Which is exactly what canny candidate Trump did when he mobilized 65 million voters.

Mr. Schultz has some work to do, though. A new Fox News poll reveals that 36 percent of Americans have never heard of him, 27 percent have no opinion of the likely candidate, 25 percent have an unfavorable impression of him and 12 percent give him a favorable view.

THE FAVORITE CANDIDATE

A new poll corroborates what CPAC proved over the weekend: President Trump has a steel-clad fan base.

“GOP voters say Trump is a cinch for renomination. At least two former governors, William Weld of Massachusetts and John Kasich of Ohio, are reportedly considering Republican primary challenges to President Trump, but GOP voters overwhelmingly approve of the job Trump is doing and consider him a shoo-in for renomination,” says a new Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 likely GOP voters conducted Feb. 25-26.

It found that 88 percent of likely Republican voters say Mr. Trump will be the GOP presidential nominee in 2020, with 70 percent who say it’s “very likely.”

A MELANIA MOMENT

There is also some genuine affection for first lady Melania Trump; 8-out-of-10 Republicans have a favorable opinion of her, according to the aforementioned Fox News poll. Mrs. Trump has been a steadfast, gracious and productive presence since Election Day — and this week is no exception.

She will travel to Oklahoma, Washington state, and Nevada to promote Be Best, her personal initiative which focuses on the well-being of children, online safety and opioid abuse.

She’ll be in Tulsa on Monday to visit an elementary school that includes character education in its curriculum, then it’s on to Seattle to spend time with a tech company offering computer apps to teach kids online safety. On Tuesday, she hosts a town-hall meeting focused on opioids in Las Vegas.

“Whether it is social media and technology or drug and alcohol abuse, children in our country and around the world are faced with many challenges. I will continue to shine a spotlight on the programs that provide children the tools and skills required for emotional, social and physical well-being,” Mrs. Trump said in a statement.

MEANWHILE IN EUROPE

American comedians spend much time mocking President Trump. But most don’t have a political calling. However, in Europe, so many comedians run for office that jokester candidates have “laughed their way to the top,” writes Miklos Stemler, a correspondent for OZY.com.

“Across Central and Eastern Europe, satirical parties and comedian candidates are gaining ground, vying for power or grabbing it, fueled by voters’ deep dissatisfaction with mainstream parties,” he said, citing Italy’s Five Star Movement, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, and Hungary’s Two-Tailed Dog Party — which garnered close to 2 percent of the total vote in a recent national election, and now is verging on 5 percent.

Mr. Stemler has also studied the Polish Beer Lovers Party, The Icelandic Best Party and even America’s own Vermin Supreme, who wears a rubber boot on his head and has run for U.S. president since 2004.

“That they’re already well-known, often speak truth to power in a way ordinary folks can understand, make people laugh and are charismatic public speakers gives comedians and the parties they lead an advantage over other political outsiders seeking to disrupt the mainstream. Equally though, the fleeting successes of some of the earlier efforts by joke parties offer a cautionary tale to the new groups — that initial recognition and adulation can get you only so far,” Mr. Stemler said.

POLL DU JOUR

88 percent of Americans favor requiring drug companies to include drug prices in their ads.

88 percent favor “making it easier” for generic drugs to come on the market.

80 percent of Americans blame drug company profits as a “major factor” in prescription drug prices.

79 percent of Americans describe the cost of prescription drugs as “unreasonable.

24 percent say it is “difficult” to afford their prescription medicines.

Source: A Kaiser Family Foundation poll of 1,440 U.S. adults conducted Feb. 14-24.

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