A well-respected US presidential hopeful, who has called out Donald Trump’s “vitriolic behaviour”, could have the unintended effect of ensuring the incumbent gets a second term in the White House, critics have warned.
Just a little less than two years out from the presidential election in 2020, candidates are jostling for position to try and turf out Mr Trump.
But Democratic party bosses are increasingly alarmed at the prospect of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz throwing his hat in the ring.
While the coffee king had been expected to seek the Democratic nomination, there is speculation he may now run as an independent.
The very real fear is that if he ran, he would split the anti-Trump vote all but ensuring the current president gets another four years.
A senior Democratic party official urged Mr Schultz not to go independent, saying “too much is at stake”.
Reportedly worth more than $3 billion, Mr Schultz, 65, ran the Starbucks coffee chain for almost 25 years. He took it from a single store in Seattle to a global coffee bean behemoth.
Last year, he stepped down from Starbucks and is about to embark on a book tour of his memoir.
Releasing a book and spruiking it around the country was exactly what failed 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton did before she announced her presidential candidacy. Having oodles of cash helps too.
Mr Shultz has made no secret of a possible punt for the top job. When he stepped down from Starbucks, he told the New York Times: “For some time now, I have been deeply concerned about our country — the growing division at home and our standing in the world.”
He has been directly critical of President Trump commenting on the “vitriolic behaviour coming from this administration”.
“My concern (is) for the country. I think we can do much better. I think the political class as a whole has been reckless,” Mr Schultz has said.
A growing number of political heavyweights in the US have started the wheels turning on possible presidential bids including senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden and one time New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
It has been assumed that if Mr Schultz did run he would join them under the Democratic banner. However CNN have now said he could stand as an independent.
The news outlet cited a person close to an adviser of Mr Schultz who said they “are exploring a possible independent bid for the presidency in 2020”.
However they insisted all options were on the table.
“(Mr Schultz) is thinking deeply about his future and how he can best serve the country,” the source is reported as saying.
With US politics deeply divided, the Democrats are adamant only one person can challenge Mr Trump. They are terrified an independent candidate would suck votes away from the Democrats allowing Mr Trump, who will almost certainly be chosen as the Republican candidate, to remain in the White House.
In 2000, the presence of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was blamed by some for taking votes away from Al Gore who lost the presidency by a whisker.
In the crucial state of Florida, where Mr Gore lost by just a few hundred votes to George W Bush, Mr Nader nabbed almost 100,000 ballots.
Taking to Twitter, Washington State Democratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski urged Mr Schultz to either back the Democrats of back away.
“I have two words for Howard Schultz on a potential run for president as an independent: Just. Don’t,” Ms Podlodowski said. “Too much is at stake.”
Former Hillary Clinton campaign strategist and adviser to potential candidate Mr Bloomberg also has some advice for Mr Schultz.
“Anyone thinking of running for president as an independent would have to think really hard about splitting the anti-incumbent, anti-Trump vote, and just playing the spoiler role and re-electing Trump,” reported the Washington Post.
“I think that would be a terrible legacy for anyone to leave.”
He’s certainly rich but Mr Schultz is on the progressive side of politics.
Despite last year’s troubling incident at a Starbucks store in Pennsylvania, where two black man were arrested creating an uproar, Mr Schultz has spoken frequently on racial issues.
The company has backed gay marriage and said it plans to employ 10,000 refugees in its stores. Starbucks also offers health care benefits to its employees.
It’s thought policies from a Schultz campaign would be more towards the centre ground than those of, say, Mr Sanders.