Sounding every bit a presidential candidate -- but stopping short of definitively announcing an independent bid for 2020 -- former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told a crowd at South by Southwest on Saturday that there's no room in either major political party for policy positions he views as centrist.
Schultz, a billionaire former Democrat, took aim at Democrats in particular, saying the party has "decided the way to beat (President) Donald Trump is (with) a far-left socialist agenda that I think is a bad strategy."
Still, he said he "will do nothing to (help) re-elect Donald Trump" and won't run or would drop out if "the math doesn't work." But he said he doesn't think his potential independent bid will help Trump by dividing the anti-Trump vote -- which many Democrats fear -- and he said he's a long way from determining otherwise.
A number of Democratic presidential contenders who already have announced their candidacies also were scheduled to speak Saturday at South by Southwest, including U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Schultz said a Democrat can't win the support of a majority of Americans with the party's current platform, which he described as socialist and unrealistic. He cited the so-called Green New Deal in particular, a multi-pronged plan to address the dual issues of climate change and inequality that has the backing of some Democrats.
"For us to start moving toward a level of socialism" is extreme, he said. "The vast majority of Americans are not going to embrace socialism."
Schultz singled out Warren and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, calling both well-meaning but saying they're trying "to defeat Donald Trump with a far, extreme proposal." Sanders, an independent, recently announced he is running for president as a Democrat for the second time.
If elected, Schultz said he would be able to solve many of the problems facing the country because he is outside of a political system that he called "corrupt" and "rigged."
In response to an audience question regarding his status as a billionaire at a time of rising concern about financial inequality, Schultz said steps must be taken to address the problems facing many people but also defended capitalism.
"I have succeeded in American because of the American system," he said.
To the extent that other entrepreneurs similarly do well, "your success should be celebrated, not vilified," he said, drawing applause from the South by Southwest crowd.
Schultz, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., spent more than 20 years at Starbucks and helped build it into a global powerhouse. He retired as executive chairman last June and announced in January that he is considering a presidential bid.