Howard Schultz says he's not a Democrat, surprised by backlash

"I’ve been a Democrat, but I am no longer," Schultz said, adding, "I don’t affiliate myself with the Democratic Party, who’s so far left."
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By Allan Smith

Billionaire businessman Howard Schultz, who is considering an independent 2020 presidential bid, went off on the Democratic Party in an interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday.

Saying he is "no longer" a Democrat because he disagrees with the party on a host of issues, Schultz expressed shock at how strong the backlash to him from the left has been since he announced this week that he might run for president.

Asked why he wouldn't just run as a Democrat, the former Starbucks CEO said he doesn't affiliate himself with the party anymore.

"I’ve been a Democrat, but I am no longer," Schultz said, adding, "I don’t affiliate myself with the Democratic Party, who’s so far left, who basically wants the government to take over health care, which we cannot afford, the government to give free college to everybody, and the government to give everyone a job. ... We can’t afford it."

Schultz, promoting his new book "From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America," repeatedly said the country needs "comprehensive tax reform" as a way to reduce inequality. He also called for "sensible solutions to immigration."

"Now, I’ve also been criticized for being a billionaire," he said, pointing to critics on the left who have said he's fighting liberal proposals to place higher taxes on the ultra-wealthy because he is ultra-wealthy. "Let’s talk about that. I’m self-made! I grew up in the projects in Brooklyn, New York! I thought that was the American Dream?"

Again addressing the criticism, particularly from presidential contender and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Schultz said, "You're going to criticize me for being successful?"

Warren has been at the forefront of the Democratic criticisms of Schultz, who strongly disagrees with her proposed wealth tax on the super rich.

"What's 'ridiculous' is billionaires who think they can buy the presidency to keep the system rigged for themselves while opportunity slips away for everyone else," Warren tweeted on Wednesday.

Schultz told "Morning Joe" he thinks Warren is "a serious person," although he picked a Trump-like line of attack in his response to her criticism.

"She came to see me a few years ago and asked me for a contribution for her Senate race," he said, adding, "I don't believe what Elizabeth Warren ... stands for. I don't — I don't believe the country should be heading to socialism."

"She’s a smart woman. I respect her," he said. "This isn’t personal. I just don’t agree with her."

Since announcing he might run as an independent, much of the Democratic Party has come out strongly against him, fearing he might help President Donald Trump get re-elected by splitting the anti-Trump vote. Schultz has said the last thing he wants is for Trump to be re-elected, but Trump himself reportedly sees Schultz as an asset to his own re-election chances.

Bill Burton, a former deputy press secretary to President Barack Obama who now works for Schultz, told NBC News that his boss anticipated there would be "immediate vigorous debate about whether this is a good idea."

But Schultz, who Forbes says is worth more than $3 billion, said on MSNBC that he was surprised at how strong the backlash to him has been.

"Well, I must be doing something right to create so much interests and backlash from the Democratic Party," he said. "I mean, some of it is a surprise, but I think we expected to see some of the level of vitriol, but not to the extent it's been."

Claiming he would be the first "legitimate" independent candidate to run for the presidency, Schultz said he is qualified because of his "life experience."

"And what qualifies me is that I will be a leader of the country, of all American people, that people will trust and admire [me] because I will understand," he said. "I have walked in their shoes. I'm on both sides of the equation. I'm somebody who has been — who is successful, I'm somebody who came from the projects, and I understand the American people."

When asked how much a box of Cheerios costs, however, Schultz blanked.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't eat Cheerios."

Co-host Mika Brzezinski told him it cost $4.

"That's a lot," Schultz said.

The billionaire plans a monthslong national tour before making a decision on whether to run.

Allan Smith

Allan Smith is a political reporter for NBC News.