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".(Emphasis added.)
... "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....
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.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?
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....
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.