Wednesday, January 15, 2014


MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin is appropriately skeptical about Brian Schweitzer's odd scheme to win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination (by running as the "anti-Obama"). Ezra Klein, on the other hand, seems to think it's potentially brilliant:
Over at MSNBC, Benjy Sarlin asked ex-Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer whether there was "a single thing President Obama has done that you consider a positive achievement".

... "My mother, God rest her soul, told me 'Brian, if you can't think of something nice to say about something change the subject,'" he said. And so he changed the subject -- to more criticisms of Obama.

More interesting than Schweitzer's lack of praise for Obama are his extremely specific criticisms. He loathes Obamacare and believes it should be replaced by a single-payer health-care system. He calls the NSA revelations "un-effing-believable." He says the Obama administration "just haven’t been very good at running things." It's an outline of where one extremely savvy politician thinks the left might be unhappy with Obama -- and, by extension, Hillary Clinton....
(Emphasis added.)

First of all, is Schweitzer "an extremely savvy politician"? Maybe at his state's level -- but an awful lot of people are very good at appealing to an electorate at home and lousy at broadening their base. Think Rudy Giuliani. Or Rick Perry. Or Sarah Palin. Or Jon Huntsman.

And what Klein calls "conventional wisdom" is just plain common sense: you can deviate from the standard Democratic line on an issue or two (e.g., Harry Reid's opposition to abortion), but Schweitzer has far too many right-wing positions to connect with voters who disapprove of Obama from the left:
... he skews right on issues like expanding domestic oil and coal production and protecting gun rights, where Obama has held relatively strong with his base.

A third-generation rancher rarely seen without a bolo tie, Schweitzer gained a devoted following in Montana espousing “prairie populism” -- an approach that included vetoing Republican bills with a hot branding iron and airing campaign ads where he blew away federal ID cards with a shotgun.

... On the environment, while he's far from a climate change denier (he favors a carbon tax to cut emissions), his support for the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to alienate environmentalists....
Lefties who are disillusioned with Obama are disillusioned in part because they think Obama sold out to the fat cats when constructing Obamacare. You might pique the interest of those voters with a call for single payer, but they're just the voters who are going to tune out when you say you support the Keystone pipeline. And how do you sell a pro-gun message to committed progressives after Newtown? Meanwhile, on the flip side, would the beer-and-a-shot aging Reagan Democrats approve of Schweitzer attacking the NSA? Or would Hillary win them over with a mixed position on surveillance that acknowledges some excesses but also invokes terrorism?

But what makes this whole package hard to sell is the fact that Schweitzer is making the attack so personal and ad hominem. Do you know what Barack Obama's job approval rating is among Democrats right now? It's 75% according to a December poll from CNN, 78% according to a December CBS poll. It sure seems as if there's disillusionment among Democratic voters, but a lot of Democrats are clearly still loyal, while others are no worse than ambivalent -- they're frustrated and disappointed, maybe, but they're still essentially on Obama's side, even if a lot of what he does (or fails to do) is maddening.

That's Schweitzer's main problem: trying to persuade a pro-Obama electorate that Obama sucks, a message that sounds too much like the conversation on the GOP side. Beyond that, I don't see how you win a nomination by being to the left of the front-runner on some issues and to the right on others. (I don't know where Hillary will wind up on Keystone, but she'll be to Schweitzer's left on guns.) Ron Paul tried something like this -- his war skepticism read as far left to most Republicans even as he articulated a far-right economic position that a lot of them could embrace. But even he wasn't as personally nasty about George W. Bush as Schweitzer is about Obama. The nastiness seems reminiscent of the friction between Joe Lieberman and the rest of the Democratic Party in 2004 -- and recall how well that primary campaign worked out.

No, this is not a "savvy" approach.


Victor said...

What's "savvy" in his state, ain't in a lot of the rest of the US.

There are some things I like about him - but from what I know, unless he gets a hell of a lot more progressive and liberal on a whole host of issues, I won't be supporting him.

He'd be behind Hillary, O' Malley, and even Andrew Cuomo - and I can't stand my Governor of NY!
But, if he ends up the Democratic candidate, I'll work like hell to support him!

aimai said...

I agree, steve. I think its not only a dumb strategy, its agressively dumb. Believe me, by the time Obama isn't running in the next presidential race people are going to be pre-nostaligic for him and for the excitement he and his voters brought to the eleciton process. Schweitzer and every other democrat is going to be begging for Obama and Clinton to be campaigning for them. Some people have political charisma and some people don't. Schweitzer doesn't have any and he's going to need to borrow some--I think he's making an enormous mistake trying to draw a contrast between macho little Mrs. Schweitzer's boy and an extrremely successful two term Democratic president. You have to dance with the one that brung you and here's another extension of that piece of folk wisdom: don't piss on your girlfriend's prior date and social set. There's no point making democratic voters feel like losers who made a bad choice before. It won't make themf all in love with you.

Tom Hilton said...

More to the point, the people without whom Democrats cannot possibly win ever (except maybe in overwhelming white states like Montana)--African-Americans and Latinos--are the most supportive of the President, and the most likely to be turned off by gratuitous attacks on him.

Danp said...

Can't wait to hear his proposal on how "he" will replace Obamacare with a single payer system. Does he know how Congress works? All bullshit and no cattle.

aimai said...

I also think HOW FUCKING UNGRACIOUS do you have to be to be that rude about the sitting president of your own party? I am pretty sure, being a mother myself, that actually saying something as bitchy as "my mother told me..." is really not ok and if his other had had a little more sense she would have kicked his backside for dragging her into this.

I'm so pissed off I'm thinking of calling up his office nd complaining. Its one thing to try to figure out a way to distinguish yourself from other contestants, and from this president, but politics doesn't really work this way. You can't make yourself look bigger by making the sitting president of your own party look like a failure. You just can't. You have to treat it like improv and say "yes, also" not "no, but."

There's a lot to like about the ACA but I think we can do better! The president has done as good a job as anyone can given the current circumstances but I think I can do better for x, y, and z reasons.

Really, this is not so hard--maybe its hard to sell yourself but you can't do it by tearing down this president.

Ten Bears said...

I went to University in Montana. Year of law school. Built a couple of big networks, worked at a prominent law firm for a couple years, hosted a big Y2K conference in February of ninty-eight. Learned a lot. Learned to Never Trust anyone from Montana. It's east of Rockies.

Nothing we need.

Davis X. Machina said...

He's looking beyond New Hampshire and Iowa to the all-important Daily Kos primary....

Steve M. said...

In the MSNBC story, even Markos says that Schweitzer doesn't have a chance.