EXCLUSIVE: Howard Schultz retains Republican adviser as Democrat dissent brews

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Possible 2020 independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz has retained a top Republican policy wonk to advise on economic issues, a move that is sure to further anger Democratic Party activists worried that the former Starbucks chief will play a spoiler role and help re-elect President Trump to a second term.

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FOX Business has confirmed Abby McCloskey, a veteran GOP policy adviser, has been serving as a paid consultant by Schultz’s 2020 presidential exploratory committee. In an email to FOX Business, McCloskey confirmed she has “provided policy education and counsel” to Schultz but declined further comment. An official from the Schultz committee also confirmed McCloskey has been “advising Mr. Schultz for a while” but refused to clarify how long the two have been working together.

As Schultz weighs a possible presidential campaign, many Democrats have been up-in-arms over the possibility that he will siphon votes away from the party’s eventual nominee. Schultz had been a long-time Democrat and one of the most progressive CEOs in Corporate America. More recently, however, he has been critical of the far-left tilt of the party as the growing list of candidates are embracing progressive issues such as universal health coverage and free college tuition.

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Retaining a conservative consultant like McCloskey – which has yet to be reported – may further inflame the opposition Schultz has faced from top Democrats as well as party activists. As FOX Business first reported, some Democratic groups such as the Center for American Progress have put Starbucks on notice that if Schultz does indeed run as an independent in 2020, the company could pay a stiff price.

Officials with the center have hinted they may launch a consumer boycott of Starbucks products if Schultz decides to run. Schultz cut off all direct ties with the company last year when he resigned as the company’s chairman even though he remains the company’s largest individual shareholder. Schultz, however, is closely identified with the ubiquitous coffee company, having served as its CEO for over 20 years and is generally responsible for its massive growth.

A senior Starbucks executive authorized to speak with the press recently told FOX Business the company is monitoring social media and other outlets for signs of a customer boycott as Schultz gets closer to deciding on a presidential run.

A press official for the center declined a request by FOX Business for a comment. A spokeswoman for Starbucks has told FOX Business that the company is focused on its shareholders and customers but would not comment on Schultz’s political aspirations.

Erin McPike, a spokeswoman for Schultz, said McCloskey is one of several advisers working for Schultz as he weighs a run. “We have a mix of advisers, who are both Democrats and Republicans,” McPike added, declining to name the other policy advisers.

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Schultz is expected to formally announce if he will run for president as an independent in the coming weeks. He is currently conducting what advisers have described as a listening tour, meeting with voters across the country. Meanwhile, many of his advisers like McCloskey are working behind the scenes for Schultz as he weighs a run, people with knowledge of the matter tell FOX Business.

Others like former Obama administration spokesman Bill Burton, and long-time GOP strategist Steve Schmidt have publicly announced their roles advising Schultz.

McCloskey’s Republican roots run deep: In the last presidential election cycle, McCloskey worked on both Rick Perry and Jeb Bush’s 2016 political campaigns; she was the “director for domestic and foreign policy” to Perry and an “economic adviser” to Bush. McCloskey has also been affiliated with right-wing groups including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).