Take note of this name before 2016: Brian Schweitzer

2013-12-04 15:49

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Of course, you're not going to hear it much for the next few years when it comes to presidential politics because Hillary Clinton's name is being tossed around more often than an overworked salad. But although common wisdom has already crowned Clinton the Democratic nominee for the 2016 Democratic primary, and the general election that follows it, there will indeed be a populist challenger to her.
Like the Obama campaign in 2008, there will be a liberal insurgency against Clinton. There are major critics of her within the Democratic Party as well as without. There are policy stances she holds, and relationships she caters for that do not sit well with the Democratic base of voters.

Clinton's challengers

While those who disapprove of Clinton may not make up a plurality, they certainly are a significant enough fraction to force other candidates into the race, and while Clinton will likely protect her left flank (unlike 2008) she remains open to populist criticism.
Of the names that have been thrown around to challenge her in 2016 – Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and so on – many suffer from the same effects for which people feel a distaste for Clinton: closeness to big business (especially the high-profile lobbyists with Wall Street), political dynasties, and hawkish foreign policy.
The New Republic magazine led its last issue with stiff criticism of Clinton, especially in relation to Elizabeth Warren, who is seen as the liberal answer to big money when it comes to policy formation. Although the magazine argued in favour of Warren, its arguments in principle are not specific to the senator from Massachusetts:
"On one side is a majority of Democratic voters, who are angrier, more disaffected, and altogether more populist than they've been in years. They are more attuned to income inequality than before the Obama presidency and more supportive of Social Security and Medicare. They’ve grown fonder of regulation and more sceptical of big business. A recent Pew poll showed that voters under 30—who skew overwhelmingly Democratic—view socialism more favourably than capitalism. Above all, Democrats are increasingly hostile to Wall Street and believe the government should rein it in."
Which brings me back to Brian Schweitzer, a former two-term governor of the red state of Montana. Schweitzer wasn't some middle-of-the-road governor either: he governed as a progressive and left office with approval ratings north of 60%. We've spent the last few weeks discussing Republican Chris Christie winning in the heavily Democratic state of New Jersey, and there is no reason why Schweitzer shouldn’t be the converse of that conversation.

Not an out-of-touch liberal

Schweitzer also brings a fat load of relatability to the nomination conversation. When he vetoed bills sent to him by the heavily Republican Montana legislature, he did so with a red-hot branding iron. Also like Christie, he talks on television like people talk to each other, although he’s also confrontational. Like most Americans he owns and enjoys guns. He’s from a rural part of the country, as opposed to most other candidates who are east coast urbanites. It will be very, very difficult to paint him as an out-of-touch liberal.
One of Schweitzer’s major victories as chief executive of Montana was running a fiscally responsible state. As up to 70% of Americans say reducing the budget deficit is their chief concern when it comes to American competitiveness, and 58% still believe government investment is as important legislating budgetary issues is an absolute nightmare. Especially in Washington, DC at the moment. An experienced governor with a fiscally certain track record will find a receptive audience from both parties.
On top of that, Schweitzer has liberal bona fides necessary to win over Democrats. While Clinton (and, to be fair, virtually all other Democratic challengers) currently dwarfs him in name recognition, he has already approved of such policy stances such as gay marriage, which he phrased thus, “Montana is a libertarian place, keep the government off our back, out of our bedroom.” Along with budget surpluses, Schweitzer oversaw expanded education spending (with results that followed), cut taxes for the citizens of Montana, and saw the state’s bond rating tick up a notch.

He’s also for unions, immigration reform, and American energy independence (which every prospective presidential candidate talks about but then fails to follow through on), which he most recently said, was possible now the US was talking to Iran, although he may leave the green activists in the Democratic Party wanting. Schweitzer is also happy to talk about how he lived in the Middle East for seven years, and doesn’t seem as awed by the US’ complicated relationship with Israel as your average US politician.
While it is still likely that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, she will likely have to deal with Scwheitzer, who will have upped his recognition by then - he is often on the cable networks, and actually filled in as a guest host on CNN’s Crossfire.

A thorn in Clinton's side
On MSNBC last week when asked whether he will run in 2016, Schweitzer said that something he wished to do before he died was visit every county in Iowa - Iowa is the first and one of two key states in which prospective presidential candidates must win their party primary. No one really wants to visit every Iowa county for the hell of it.
He is also on record saying, “I still hold the people of Iowa and New Hampshire in high regard… The people of Iowa are a whole lot like the people of Montana. And, of course, New Hampshire's a lot like Montana. We don’t have a sales tax. 'Live Free or Die' - we understand that notion in Montana.”
While Schweitzer will have to pull a serious campaign out the bag - something equivalent to what Obama did in 2008 - there is a chance he could prove to be a major thorn in the side of Hillary Clinton. Clinton will face a wing of the party that doesn’t like her. Riding that wave successfully will be Schweitzer's challenge.

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