Commentary Magazine


Topic: Brian Schweitzer

Brian Schweitzer: First Into the Sea

Since the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions really ramped up after the 2012 election, two strategies–one from the right and one from the left–have been touted as possible ways to defeat what many expect to be a Clinton juggernaut. From the right, the strategy has been to discourage her from running at all by treating her as if she’s already in the race, forcing her into a bruising pre-campaign campaign. (The Clintons expect the Benghazi hearings to be a piece of this strategy.)

From the left, the possibility has been raised that Clinton is vulnerable to her left because of her close relationship to Wall Street (which Democrats hope to continue to demonize) and her more hawkish views on foreign policy, including having voted for the Iraq war. Both of these strategies seemed to be long shots, especially the idea of a liberal challenger in the race. It’s highly unlikely serious Democratic populists, such as Elizabeth Warren, would run against Hillary.

But now there seems to be a third strategy to avoid another Clinton White House: a combination of the two. Its proponent is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. I wrote about his toying with a presidential candidacy back in December, and it doesn’t appear to have faded. Schweitzer’s strategy is to essentially be (l’havdil, as they say in Hebrew) the Nachshon ben Aminadav of the left. The idea is that Schweitzer will combine liberal populism with an attempt to discourage Clinton from running by being the first into the sea. No high-profile Democrat has yet really tried to challenge Clinton in the public arena, and Schweitzer seems to be hoping that if he leads the way the sea will part and open up the path for countless other challengers.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Read More

Since the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions really ramped up after the 2012 election, two strategies–one from the right and one from the left–have been touted as possible ways to defeat what many expect to be a Clinton juggernaut. From the right, the strategy has been to discourage her from running at all by treating her as if she’s already in the race, forcing her into a bruising pre-campaign campaign. (The Clintons expect the Benghazi hearings to be a piece of this strategy.)

From the left, the possibility has been raised that Clinton is vulnerable to her left because of her close relationship to Wall Street (which Democrats hope to continue to demonize) and her more hawkish views on foreign policy, including having voted for the Iraq war. Both of these strategies seemed to be long shots, especially the idea of a liberal challenger in the race. It’s highly unlikely serious Democratic populists, such as Elizabeth Warren, would run against Hillary.

But now there seems to be a third strategy to avoid another Clinton White House: a combination of the two. Its proponent is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. I wrote about his toying with a presidential candidacy back in December, and it doesn’t appear to have faded. Schweitzer’s strategy is to essentially be (l’havdil, as they say in Hebrew) the Nachshon ben Aminadav of the left. The idea is that Schweitzer will combine liberal populism with an attempt to discourage Clinton from running by being the first into the sea. No high-profile Democrat has yet really tried to challenge Clinton in the public arena, and Schweitzer seems to be hoping that if he leads the way the sea will part and open up the path for countless other challengers.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

He slams Mrs. Clinton for her ties to Wall Street, her courting of corporate campaign cash and her vote for the Iraq war as senator, a jab he delivered during a trip through Iowa in December.

Such outspoken criticism of Mrs. Clinton, rare among Democrats, inspires some leaders in the party’s left wing, who are disillusioned with President Obama and soured by prospects of an unchallenged Clinton candidacy in 2016.

Montana has more cattle than people, making Mr. Schweitzer a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination, should he even try. Complicating things further, the former two-term governor has little name recognition, little money and a big appetite for oil and gas exploration.

But some Democrats say Mr. Schweitzer has a chance at an important role: the maverick who speaks for disillusioned liberals, calls out Mrs. Clinton’s vulnerabilities and, perhaps, prods a more liberal champion into the race.

To be sure, the article mostly treats the strategy slightly differently than I do. It’s pitched here as way to open the path to someone challenging Clinton in the primaries. But I don’t think that’s realistic. I imagine Schweitzer is well aware of just how difficult it would be to defeat Clinton once she’s in the race, and I suspect he is also conscious of the lack of Democrats who could plausibly run on this platform who would also run against the Clinton machine. And he surely well knows that if his own presidential ambitions are serious, he needs Clinton not to run at all.

Additionally, even if more serious populist Democrats ran against Clinton in the primaries, all that would do is pull Clinton’s own rhetoric to the left. Clinton wouldn’t drink a glass of orange juice that hasn’t been focus-grouped and poll tested. If railing against the one percent or some other mindless liberal cliché polls well in the primaries, that’s what she’ll say. Once the nominee, she’ll tack to the center. She won’t lose Democratic base votes no matter what she does: American left-liberalism is guided by the ideology of power with a dash of progressive identity politics. Clinton is their perfect nominee, no matter how many checks she gets from Wall Street.

To wit: Clinton is already responding to Schweitzer’s populist critique as expected. The same Journal story has a quote from her spokesman:

Asked about all of the ex-governor’s criticisms, Hillary Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said, “She’s proud to have spent a lifetime fighting for equality and opportunity for all people, from jobs and education to health care and voting, and will continue to do so.”

Schweitzer also poses one more challenge to Clinton. Progressive identity politics is bitter and completely humorless. Schweitzer, in contrast to virtually every high-profile Democrat in the country, is funny and charming. Angry populism is something Clinton can mimic, if need be. She can excel at playing the victim. But lighthearted, down-to-earth populism? That’s her Achilles’ heel.

Thus while the odds are still against Schweitzer, he’s probably the right Democrat to make this play. Democrats around the country no doubt expect the sea to swallow him. But they’ll be watching just in case.

Read Less

The Discrediting of Government Continues

President Obama’s recent troubles have evoked various comparisons to his predecessor, whether they were the parallels between specific policies or simply the climbing disapproval ratings. To these we can add one more: the question of succession. Indeed the discussion about the makeup of the Democrats’ 2016 primary roster is quite relevant to this particular debate.

When George W. Bush left office amid low approval ratings, the Republican Party faced the challenge of trying to figure out its post-Bush identity–chiefly in the form of its 2008 presidential nominee–on the fly, without the benefit of years in the wilderness. Though Obama’s second term is far from over, Democrats will still face the same challenge.

Read More

President Obama’s recent troubles have evoked various comparisons to his predecessor, whether they were the parallels between specific policies or simply the climbing disapproval ratings. To these we can add one more: the question of succession. Indeed the discussion about the makeup of the Democrats’ 2016 primary roster is quite relevant to this particular debate.

When George W. Bush left office amid low approval ratings, the Republican Party faced the challenge of trying to figure out its post-Bush identity–chiefly in the form of its 2008 presidential nominee–on the fly, without the benefit of years in the wilderness. Though Obama’s second term is far from over, Democrats will still face the same challenge.

In Hillary Clinton, for example, primary voters will have a reminder of the more successful Democratic governance of her husband but also the unprincipled, soulless pursuit of power that characterizes the Clintons’ political life and Hillary’s statist agenda. If Jerry Brown runs, they’ll see a candidate at once a throwback to 20th century politics of stagnation and a warning from the future, in the form of the failing state administration of California, as to where that leads. And if Brian Schweitzer runs, he’ll embody a halfhearted left-libertarianism that at least gestures toward a government less inclined to violate your personal space. The latest Gallup polling on the size and scope of government, however, does not bode as well for Clinton or Brown:

Seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question. The prior high for big government was 65% in 1999 and 2000. Big government has always topped big business and big labor, including in the initial asking in 1965, but just 35% named it at that time.

But it’s the breakdown of the results by political party that is really striking:

Each party group currently rates big government as the greatest threat to the country, including a record-high 92% of Republicans and 71% of independents, as well as 56% of Democrats. Democrats are most likely of the partisan groups to name big business as the biggest threat, at 36%; relatively few Republicans, 4%, view big business as the most threatening.

It’s not just that a majority of Democrats (and large majority of independents) see government as the greatest threat to the country. It’s also the trajectory of those numbers that stands out. During the Bush administration 62 percent of Democrats felt this way, but were slowly reassured as the Democrats took back Congress and then Obama was elected president; the number dropped to 32 percent.

Some of Democrats’ fears about the government can be attributed, I suppose, to Republicans taking back the House earlier in this presidency. But they have not sponsored bills that chip away at individual liberty–just the opposite, they have stood opposed to ObamaCare’s mandates, EPA overregulation, Democrats’ anti-gun legislation, and so forth. It’s what made it so amusing when Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to spin congressional approval ratings against the GOP today by tweeting:

Congress is finishing this year less popular than a cockroach, and mindless, knee-jerk obstruction from Republicans is exactly why.

Not only was this the sort of tedious cant voters have come to expect from Reid, but it comes right after the Senate approved a bipartisan budget deal driven in large part by Paul Ryan. Reid, in other words, looks even more ridiculous than he normally would. But even more than Reid’s statement being patently false was its tone-deaf character: even a majority of Democrats see the government as getting too intrusive for comfort. Actions that put the breaks on this behavior are not what’s wrong with government. If anything, Reid only exacerbates this by deploying the “nuclear option” to get rid of the filibuster. Not only is Reid the problem, not the solution, but he’s advertising himself as such.

It won’t matter much to Reid, who isn’t running for president. But if ObamaCare isn’t fixed, the public’s faith in government will continue to collapse–among Democrats as well as Republicans. As the Democrats seek a presidential nominee that best embodies the party’s post-Obama identity, this will no doubt be a factor–and it could very well hold back the statists and elevate a candidate with a more rational approach to governance.

Read Less

Is Schweitzer the Dems’ Chris Christie?

At a 2007 event in Jacksonville, Florida for his presidential primary campaign, Fred Thompson offered a version of a line he used repeatedly when campaigning in the South: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it to be back somewhere that they don’t think I talk with a funny accent.” (I vaguely remember hearing an even better version, in which he responded to a question about who his constituency was supposed to be by quipping that to many Republican voters, he was the only candidate in the race who spoke without an accent.)

The line worked because that year the better-known GOP candidates were from Massachusetts (Mitt Romney), New York (Rudy Giuliani), and Arizona (John McCain). But it would strike a chord in either party; in 2007, the three most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Jimmy Carter (Georgia), and Lyndon Johnson (Texas). Yet beyond the specific issue of accents, politicians from coastal enclaves often struggle to relate to Middle America. And that’s why former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer might just make some trouble for Hillary Clinton in 2016–in part because of the possible presence in the race of, as Jonathan noted earlier, the California gadfly Jerry Brown.

Read More

At a 2007 event in Jacksonville, Florida for his presidential primary campaign, Fred Thompson offered a version of a line he used repeatedly when campaigning in the South: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it to be back somewhere that they don’t think I talk with a funny accent.” (I vaguely remember hearing an even better version, in which he responded to a question about who his constituency was supposed to be by quipping that to many Republican voters, he was the only candidate in the race who spoke without an accent.)

The line worked because that year the better-known GOP candidates were from Massachusetts (Mitt Romney), New York (Rudy Giuliani), and Arizona (John McCain). But it would strike a chord in either party; in 2007, the three most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Jimmy Carter (Georgia), and Lyndon Johnson (Texas). Yet beyond the specific issue of accents, politicians from coastal enclaves often struggle to relate to Middle America. And that’s why former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer might just make some trouble for Hillary Clinton in 2016–in part because of the possible presence in the race of, as Jonathan noted earlier, the California gadfly Jerry Brown.

I say “make some trouble” because it’s not as though Schweitzer would be a juggernaut in a primary. He doesn’t have the name recognition of the others, and it’s doubtful his fundraising could keep pace with well-known candidates from California and New York. Additionally, in the Democratic Party coastal elitism sells, so Schweitzer may not have an advantage even if he can come across as the “normal” candidate. (And let’s be honest: if your opponent is known as “Moonbeam” Brown, you’d better come across as the normal candidate.)

In fact, the case can be made that Schweitzer would be more like the Democratic version of Chris Christie: perhaps too moderate for the base despite that crossover appeal’s advantage in a general election. Schweitzer’s moderation comes on an issue of new resonance to the Democratic Party’s base but on which they stand opposed to public opinion: gun rights.

Schweitzer’s support for gun rights was, once upon a time, part of what made him seem a dream candidate for Democrats–that combined with the fact that after Al Gore and John Kerry, the Democrats were worried they had nothing but self-serious, humorless, and completely unlikeable candidates to offer in national elections. In 2006, the New York Times’s profile of Schweitzer captured this dynamic perfectly. It began:

It’s fun being governor of Montana. Just watch Brian Schweitzer bouncing around the streets of Helena in the passenger seat of the state’s official S.U.V., fumbling with wires, trying to stick the flashing police light on the roof. When he spots some legislators on the sidewalk, he blasts them with the siren, then summons them by name on the loudspeaker. The men jump, and the governor tumbles out of the car, doubled in laughter, giving everyone a bear hug or a high-five or a soft slap on the cheek. Schweitzer, a Democrat in his first term, marches into a barroom in blue jeans and cowboy boots and a beaded bolo tie, and his border collie, Jag, leaps out of the vehicle and follows him in. The governor throws back a few pints of the local brew and introduces himself to everyone in the place, down to the servers and a small girl stuck there with her parents. He takes time from the backslapping to poach cubes of cheese from the snack platter and sneak them to the girl, who is now chasing his dog around the bar. “This is how you make friends with Jag,” he advises her. “Just hold it in your hand and let him take it.”

As soon as Schweitzer was elected in 2004 — the same night that George W. Bush carried Montana by 20 percentage points — pundits began declaring him the future of the Democratic Party. Never mind that it was his first elected office: the 51-year-old farmer and irrigation contractor had folksy charm and true-grit swagger. He shot guns, rode horses, took his dog to work and decimated his opponents with off-the-cuff one-liners heavy on the bull-and-horse metaphors. He didn’t act like a Democrat, in other words, and to many Democrats, reeling from consecutive losses to Bush, that seemed like a pretty good thing.

Schweitzer himself seems to view his support for gun rights as not just cultural, but ideological: National Journal calls his worldview a “brand of libertarian populism.” This certainly overstates the case: the same article even starts off with a riff on Schweitzer’s support for single-payer health care. But this does get at why Schweitzer would be a reasonably effective general-election candidate. In today’s Democratic Party, he is considered “libertarian,” underlining just how far to the left the Democrats have shifted as a national party.

That ideology would be a pleasant contrast with Hillary Clinton’s baldly statist impulses (“there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child,” etc.), and with Moonbeam Brown’s failed-state bureaucracy. And to many voters, he’d also be the only one without an accent.

Read Less

First Democrat Assault on Romney’s Faith

The White House has said it would treat Mitt Romney’s religion as off-limits for attacks, but apparently that message hasn’t filtered down to everyone in the Democratic Party. In an article published in the Daily Beast Thursday night, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer was quoted letting loose with a slam at Romney’s Mormon origins while answering a question about GOP outreach to Hispanics:

While discussing swing states, Schweitzer said Romney would have a “tall order to position Hispanics to vote for him,” and I replied that was mildly ironic since Mitt’s father was born in Mexico, giving the clan a nominal claim to being Hispanic. Schweitzer replied that it is “kinda ironic given that his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico, but then he’d have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico, given the gender discrepancy.” Women, he said, are “not great fans of polygamy, 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy. I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico.”

As the Beast pointed out, both Romney’s parents and grandparents were monogamous, so tying him to the polygamous practices of his great-grandparents is a nasty piece of business and no more relevant to the 2012 campaign than an investigation into the marital practices of President Obama’s ancestors in Kenya. Though Democrats will downplay Schweitzer as a nobody who ought not to be linked to Obama, imagine if a Republican governor of an equally obscure state were to make comments about Obama’s family tree. The furor would be tremendous, and the incident would be treated in the mainstream media as emblematic of GOP racism. Any effort to downplay rather than to vigorously condemn Schweitzer’s remarks are a sure sign that Democrats hope to profit from such slurs. So while you won’t hear any slurs against Mormons from the president or even his top attack dog Vice President Biden, there will be plenty of Democratic surrogates who will be working overtime this year to foul the political waters with slurs against Mormons.

Read More

The White House has said it would treat Mitt Romney’s religion as off-limits for attacks, but apparently that message hasn’t filtered down to everyone in the Democratic Party. In an article published in the Daily Beast Thursday night, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer was quoted letting loose with a slam at Romney’s Mormon origins while answering a question about GOP outreach to Hispanics:

While discussing swing states, Schweitzer said Romney would have a “tall order to position Hispanics to vote for him,” and I replied that was mildly ironic since Mitt’s father was born in Mexico, giving the clan a nominal claim to being Hispanic. Schweitzer replied that it is “kinda ironic given that his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico, but then he’d have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico, given the gender discrepancy.” Women, he said, are “not great fans of polygamy, 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy. I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico.”

As the Beast pointed out, both Romney’s parents and grandparents were monogamous, so tying him to the polygamous practices of his great-grandparents is a nasty piece of business and no more relevant to the 2012 campaign than an investigation into the marital practices of President Obama’s ancestors in Kenya. Though Democrats will downplay Schweitzer as a nobody who ought not to be linked to Obama, imagine if a Republican governor of an equally obscure state were to make comments about Obama’s family tree. The furor would be tremendous, and the incident would be treated in the mainstream media as emblematic of GOP racism. Any effort to downplay rather than to vigorously condemn Schweitzer’s remarks are a sure sign that Democrats hope to profit from such slurs. So while you won’t hear any slurs against Mormons from the president or even his top attack dog Vice President Biden, there will be plenty of Democratic surrogates who will be working overtime this year to foul the political waters with slurs against Mormons.

The truth is, most Americans know little about Romney’s faith, so it is possible that many actually do associate the mainstream Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to which he belongs with popular culture attacks on his faith that often center on the tiny minority of those who do practice polygamy as in the HBO show “Big Love” or reality shows that also feature such marginal practices. The LDS Church forbade polygamy 122 years ago.

While it’s not clear just how much success these off-line attempts to delegitimize Romney will have, there’s little question that a strategy to brand Romney as “weird” has been a talking point inside some high Democratic circles since last summer. The trick will be to allow President Obama, whose supporters treated all efforts to vet his associations with radical figures as racism four years ago, to stay above the fray while others throw mud at Romney.

However, the Schweitzer comment ought to be the moment when decent people on both sides of the aisle come forward to demand that the Democrats cease trying to incite prejudice against Mormons. Religious freedom is the foundation of American democracy. The incitement of religious prejudice, no matter how coyly phrased, must be treated as sternly and with as much heat as any effort to stir up racial hatred. It is vital that this be stopped now before it takes hold and becomes integral to the discussion about the election. If it does, all Americans will be diminished.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.