Brian Schweitzer Hits Hillary Clinton Over Iraq War Vote

The beginnings of a populist challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016?

Brian Schweitzer

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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    I think Clinton has paid a hefty price for her vote on Iraq…as she rightly should have.
    But I’m also open to someone challenging her…it ain’t gonna be this guy though. I’ve seen this guy a lot on TV and have never been the least bit impressed.
    Competition is good…and going into the general campaign…against Christie or whoever…untested by challengers would be dangerous for her.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Of late it’s been hard to keep track of the players without a program. Last few cycles I’ve maintained a list with a few comments I update as the campaign develops. Just added Schweitzer with a note that it’s another appearance by that perennial candidate, “who?”

    I have a dozen possible candidates listed under GOPs. Under DEMs I only have Hillary, Biden, Warren and now Schweitzer. Who am I missing?

  3. edmondo says:

    Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) has some concerns about a hypothetical Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

    In an interview with the Weekly Standard published in the Dec. 23 issue, Schweitzer speculated Clinton might become a “hard right” politician.

    “The question that we have is, will it be the Hillary that leads the progressives? Or is it the Hillary that says, ‘I’m already going to win the Democratic nomination, and so I can shift hard right on Day 1,'” Schweitzer said. “We can’t afford any more hard right. We had eight years of George Bush. Now we’ve had five years of Obama, [who], I would argue, in many cases has been a corporatist.”

    If he keeps that up, I may have to go back to voting for Democrats again.

  4. Nikki says:

    I would love it if someone else would get the Dem nod rather than Hillary. She’s already proven she will be even more of a corporatist than Obama.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    Wait… Mr Schweitzer wanted to influence the Dem campaign for the White House in ’16 by talking to the Weekly Standard and RCP? Or did the Weekly Standard and the ditto machine that is RCP hear of some non-player making somewhat critical remarks about HRC and decide to put them in banner headlines? Seems like there’s a difference.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Schweitzer Who?

    What has he done that is significant?

    Where has he been the last ten years?

    (yawn. nothing to see here, folks. You can come from an obscure background if you convince people you have a great future in front of you. But you can’t look like you’re on the downside of an obscure political career and convince people that you are The One. This guy is Fred Thompson, redux.)

  7. jib10 says:

    Clinton is vulnerable on economic issues, mainly Wall Street regulation but that is not enough to knock her out. Yes, she voted for the Iraq war and it cost her the 2008 nomination and the presidency. But since then she was Obama’s Secretary of State and unless she renounces all she did then and starts advocating for bombing Iran or re-invading Iraq, foreign policy will not be how to attack her.

    I honestly dont see how she can be beaten for the nomination and unless someone can tell me what states Obama won that she will lose (cause I can give you the list of states she will do better than Obama in), I can not see how she will not be president. But it is (very) early so who really knows.

  8. Stonetools says:


    There is Martin O’Malley, the current governor of Maryland. He has a great record as governor, but as you have shown, he is easy to miss. Longer shots are Andrew Cuomo, Sherrod Brown, and Kirtsten Gillebrand. But everyone will likely make way for Hillary, if she runs. Frankly , most of those guys look like veep nominations.

  9. Stonetools says:


    I’d be interested in seeing a list of those states. Dunno if Hillary can expand the map, but I’m pretty sure that she can defend it, absent an economic catastrophe.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Stonetools: Thanks.

  11. Kylopod says:

    While I have my doubts that this will prove a very effective political attack on her–it will probably seem to most people like he’s just beating a dead horse–I do think her vote still tells us something about her judgment, and her ability to withstand a political bandwagon like the run-up to the Iraq War. Perhaps she’s learned something from this mistake, but the question is what: one of her major weaknesses, from what I’ve seen, isn’t recklessness but excessive political caution, and I believe that’s part of what led to her fateful vote. I’d worry she’d be the type of president who does everything to avoid political risk. It’s one of the reasons I’ve wondered whether she’d have pursued health-care reform had she become president in 2009 (certainly she wouldn’t have been eager to repeat the 1993 health-care debacle), or whether she’d have given the order that took down Osama Bin Laden.

  12. jib10 says:

    @Stonetools: The area that Clinton will perform much better than Obama is what they call Greater Appalachia (aka the hillbilly belt). Partly this is because Obama performed the worse here of any place in the country. Almost all the (very few) counties where Kerry got more votes in 2004 than Obama did in 2008 are in this area. However it also is the area that Clinton performs very well in, better than any other Dems.

    West Virginia, western North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, southern Missouri, Oklahoma, and north Texas. She wont take all of these but she will do much better than Obama in all of them. West Virginia is hers. Kentucky will probably be hers. She is competitive in Tenn. and Arkansas. NC went for Obama in 2008 and the extra votes she gets in the west will help her. If she can get enough votes in southern MO, not win there, just get enough votes, she can take MO. Oklahoma is so deep red it will stay repub but there are people, including repubs who say that if Clinton gets enough votes in north Texas, again, not win in north Texas, just get a lot more votes than Obama, then she may put Texas in play.

    Of course depends on who the repubs nominate and what happens between now and then but Hilary can make the repubs fight for the hillbilly belt and that will make it much harder for them to take Obama states from the dems.

  13. rudderpedals says:

    @jib10: Do you believe there’s a racial component here that’s making Clinton more attractive than Obama to certain Appalachians & Southerners?

  14. Rob in CT says:

    I do expect somebody to take a shot at running on Hillary’s Left. I don’t expect it to work, but then who in 2005 thought Obama would beat her?

  15. rudderpedals says:

    If only we were talking about Big Dog.

    How do young dems feel about Clinton? My OWS friends I don’t think would be very supportive. ISTM there’s healthy but untapped populist outrage tinder waiting to catch fire with the right person.

  16. jib10 says:

    @rudderpedals: As I was born and raised in the hillbilly belt, I am pretty damn sure there is a racial component. Honestly, why would any one who voted for Kerry in 2004 NOT vote for Obama in 2008. The only place that happened in large numbers was in the hillbilly belt.

    But lets see what happens in 2016. Maybe those voters who were blue in 2004 and then went red in 2008 will stay red in 2016. In which case, this was a real ideological shift that had nothing to do with race. Otherwise…..