Ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sticks with strategist Steve Schmidt despite taking summer off from politics

Key Points
  • Howard Schultz, recovering from three back surgeries, is taking the summer off from politics, but he is sticking with veteran senior political advisor Steve Schmidt.
  • "Steve has advised Howard for quite a while and will continue to do so," a senior Schultz aide tells CNBC.
  • Schultz is also shaking up his political team as he considers running for president in 2020.
  • Both Schultz and Schmidt, who was a visible and vocal critic of President Donald Trump's, have largely disappeared from the airwaves over the past few months.
Howard Schultz on Mad Money.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Howard Schultz, the billionaire former CEO of Starbucks who is considering an independent run for president, is taking the summer off from political activities and has laid off several staffers – but he is sticking with veteran strategist Steve Schmidt.

"Steve has advised Howard for quite a while and will continue to do so," said a senior Schultz aide who declined to be named. Schultz, the aide added, "is realigning his team as he moves into the next phase of an exploration."

Schmidt was a senior campaign strategist on Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and was, until earlier this year, a frequent and vocal media critic of President Donald Trump's.

Schultz has dramatically scaled back his political activities since he announced in January that he would consider a centrist bid for the presidency, targeting both Trump and what he has called an increasingly liberal Democratic Party.

On Wednesday, Schultz released a statement saying that he was recovering from three back surgeries. He said he would be "back in touch after Labor Day" but did not say whether his next announcement will about a potential presidential run.

Schultz's last speaking engagement came in April in Arizona. He canceled events in Utah, San Francisco and Dallas.

While Schultz is out of the spotlight, Schmidt and his team will continue to help the former Starbucks boss "assess the landscape and the viability of running for president as an independent," said another aide, who declined to be named.

Schmidt himself has gone dark. His last public remarks came in February, when he stormed off his own podcast after co-hosts grilled him about backing Schultz. During the interview, he said he was going to open a 501c4 dedicated to building a third party movement that would be funded by Schultz. So far, none of that has come to fruition.

Schmidt, who quit the Republican Party in 2018, has even scaled back his presence on social media, where he would routinely hammer Trump. His last tweet came Jan. 24, when he hit the House GOP for voting against a bill that barred Trump from deciding to exit the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Schmidt did not return repeated requests for comment.

Schultz's break comes as former Vice President Joe Biden continues to enjoy strong support in polls. Biden is considered a centrist Democrat and is perceived as a candidate who would capture the kind of moderate voters Schultz would seek.

People close to Schultz said that the strength of Biden's appeal will be a deciding factor for whether the coffee tycoon officially launches a run for president.

Biden consistently leads the expansive Democratic field in state and national polls, According to a Real Clear Politics polling average, Biden is ahead of his 22 rivals with a 32% average. Self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is second with a 16% average.

Protester to Howard Schultz: If you run for president, you will help Trump win