Brian Schweitzer Hits Hillary Clinton Over Iraq War Vote
The beginnings of a populist challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016?
Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who has been mentioned as a potential Presidential candidate on the Democratic side who could challenge Hillary Clinton from the left, raised an old objection that many Democrats who supported Barack Obama in 2008 had against Clinton when she ran for the Democratic nomination the first time:
Altoona, Iowa (CNN) - Brian Schweitzer, a former Montana governor and self-styled prairie populist who wants to be part of the Democratic presidential conversation for 2016, drew a bright line between himself and presumed frontrunner Hillary Clinton on Wednesday by raising an topic that has largely faded from the political spotlight amid rising economic anxiety: the Iraq War.
In a speech to Iowa Democrats in the Des Moines suburb of Altoona, and in remarks to reporters, Schweitzer repeatedly chided Senate Democrats who voted in 2002 to green light military action in Iraq.
Clinton, then a senator from New York, voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq, a decision that badly damaged her credibility
with the Democratic base and allowed Barack Obama to win over anti-war liberals in their 2008 nomination fight.
“Anybody who runs in this cycle, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, if they were the United States Senate and they voted with
George Bush to go to Iraq when I would say about 98 percent of America knows that it was a folly, that it was a waste of treasure and blood,
and if they voted to go to Iraq there will be questions for them on the left and from the right,” he told CNN.
Later, in his remarks to a holiday party organized by the liberal group Progress Iowa, Schweitzer asked the roughly 70 audience members
to keep the Iraq war vote in mind as they begin to think about potential candidates passing through the state.
“When George Bush got a bunch of Dems to vote for that war, I was just shaking my head in Montana,” he said, noting that he opposed the war
(though he didn’t have to vote on it). “I’m asking you to pick the leaders who aren’t going to make those mistakes.”
Schweitzer was reluctant to mention the former Secretary of State by name, but the target of his comments, delivered in the
first-in-the-nation caucus state that derailed Clinton’s candidacy almost six years ago, was unmistakable.
This isn’t the first time that Schweitzer has urged Democrats to not just roll over for Hillary in 2016:
In recent interviews, with The Weekly Standard and RealClearPolitics, he has urged Democrats not to give Clinton a free pass to the
nomination in 2016. And asked after the speech who he had in mind when raising the Iraq issue, Schweitzer said “presidential candidates.”
Schweitzer, though, insisted he wasn’t attacking the presumed frontrunner.
“The point is that this is an election not a coronation,” Schweitzer said. “It’s been a long time since we have had coronations in his
country. Democrats are always excited about tomorrow and we always want to know what the future is. We don’t want to talk about the past.
We want to talk about the future. We want to know that the people that we elect will move America forward, not move us in reverse.”
Schweitzer has been the subject of interest among in Democratic circles for some time now, stretching back to when he was elected Governor of Montana in 2004. At the time, he was the first Democrat to hold the position since Ted Schwinden left office in 1989, making him something of a rarity in a Mountain West that has been dominated about the Republican Party for quite some time, although it’s worth noting that Montana has not completely followed that trend given that it narrowly went for Bill Clinton in 1992 and has two Democratic Senators, including one seat that hasn’t been held by a Republican since 1913. Schweitzer’s brash speaking style, and a politics that comes across as what one pundit has called a combination of populism and libertarianism have also drawn national attention. For example, Schweitzer has been a strong defender of a “gun rights” interpretation of the Second Amendment but also advocated establishing a form of single-payer health care in his state similar to the plan in place in the neighboring Canadian Province of Saskatchewan. Since leaving office, he’s shown up regularly on both CNN and MSNBC as a commentator from the left, but one that is not necessarily supportive of the current status quo in the national Democratic Party. Most recently, there was speculation that he would seek his parties nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Max Baucus, but he surprised people nationwide by bowing out at a point where, according to some reports, a campaign announcement was just days away. Since then, there has been speculation that he’s considering running for President in 2016. The fact that he said what he did, and said it in Iowa, may only increase that speculation.
Ed Kilgore comments:
If Schweitzer runs for president and takes the “populist” route he often exemplified in Montana, you could expect all sorts of aspects of HRC’s history and persona to come under direct attack, from her imputed responsibility for the 42d president’s policies that displeased liberals, to her ties to the financial sector as a Senator from New York, and yes, to her vote for the Iraq War and for “war on terror” policies as someone representing the state hit hardest on 9/11. It’s another matter altogether whether Democrats have an appetite for these kind of questions, and/or will be more focused on preventing the inauguration of President Cruz or President Christie or whoever the GOP nominates.
I will say that Schweitzer is in some danger of looking a bit out of date if he runs for president as a pol who seems to draw his entire perspective fromWhat’s the Matter With Kansas? CNN’s Peter Hamby noted the wayback-machine element of the Montanan’s message in Iowa:
To observers of his sometimes-haphazard speech, which also touched on education and prison reform, along with transparently folksy Midwestern nods to cattle and 4H, his Iraq observations seemed somewhat dated.
“Are you tweeting from 2004?” one Twitter user wrote to a reporter covering the speech.
On the other hand, I suppose you could say that if Democrats are going to nominate the wife of their 1992 candidate, some questions from the past are inevitable.
That last part is likely true. Indeed, now that Hillary Clinton is out of Foggy Bottom and back on the road making policy speeches that seem clearly pointed toward a Presidential run in the future, one is already hearing Republicans bring up criticisms directed at her going back to the very early days of the Clinton Administration, including attacks over things such as the ill-fated health insurance reform plan that she was placed in charge of creating in the first two years of her husband’s Presidency. A Democratic rival bringing up the Iraq War vote wouldn’t be too surprising given that. At the same time, though, by the time a Presidential campaign begins in earnest in 2015, that vote in favor of the Iraq War will be some twelve years old. Entire groups of eligible voters will be paying attention at the time will not have much direct memory of those events and, given the fact that U.S. troops will have been out of Iraq for nearly four years at that point it’s difficult to see how the vote will be as big an issue as it was during the course of the 2008 primary season.
At the same time, though, by all accounts there is a contingent inside the Democratic Party that seems to be becoming more vocal that isn’t entirely thrilled with the idea of giving Clinton the nomination in a cake walk. Even if it turns out that it would be next to impossible to defeat her, which seems to be the case given the polls, this group seems to desire having a candidate that would nudge her from the left even just a little it to remind her that they exist. For a time, this group was coalscing around Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, but she’s essentially ruled out running against Hillary. So, Schweitzer may just be the candidate their looking for. He’s not likely to win the nomination, but he could make the race interesting at least for a short period of time. Given the fact that the battle inside the GOP is likely to be the one that grabs the most media attention in 2016, having a candidate that garners media coverage and at least appears to make Clinton fight for the nomination then that would inure to the benefit of the party as a whole.