THE BLOG
02/01/2016 11:26 am ET Updated Jan 31, 2017

Brian Schweitzer Would Be a Formidable Independent Presidential Candidate

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering entering the Presidential sweepstakes as a centrist Independent. He will likely enter only if the Democrats nominate Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders and the Republicans select conservative Donald Trump. However, should the Democrats nominate the more centrist leaning Hillary Clinton and should the Republicans nominate Mr. Trump there will be an aperture in the race for a left-leaning anti-Wall Street populist. Former Montana Governor Brain Schweitzer would fit the bill.

Sanders is garnering support from younger voters for his call to "break up the largest financial institutions in the country," for his support for single-payer healthcare, for his opposition to most free trade agreements, and for his aversion toward foreign interventions.

On these issues, Hillary Clinton comes from a divergent perspective. She earned 2.9 million by delivering 12 speeches to major financial institutions. Moreover, Clinton voices opposition to supplanting the Affordable Care Act regime with a single-payer system.

Clinton has backtracked from her previous views on international trade. In 1998, while serving as First Lady, she praised corporations for waging "a very effective business effort in the U.S. on behalf of NAFTA." In 2007, however, while running for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Clinton called NAFTA "a mistake." Furthermore, as U.S. Secretary of State, Clinton lauded the Trans-pacific Partnership, which she now opposes. It would be easy for Trump, an avowed economic nationalist, to style Hillary as a mere political opportunist regarding international trade.

Clinton has a record as an interventionist in foreign affairs, having voted for the authorization of the use of force in Iraq while a member of the U.S. Senate. As U.S. Secretary of State, she spearheaded efforts to dislodge Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya, and proposed a surge of 40,000 troops into Afghanistan as part of a counterinsurgency force.

Enter former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Schweitzer considered a run for the Democratic Presidential nomination, but backed down. He made a verbal gaff after U.S. House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his reelection bid, commenting that Cantor "sets off his gaydar" and had "effeminate mannerisms." While this faux pas set back his political career, he has apologized, and it is far from a career-ending flub.

As an Independent candidate, Schweitzer could consolidate many Sanders supporters. He could also bring disaffected non-voters into the voting fold, siphon off some potential Trump supporters, and attract to Libertarian and quasi-Libertarian voters. Moreover, Schweitzer is a political amalgam who could appeal to a broad cross-section of constituencies.

There is a similitude between a Schweitzer candidacy and the candidacy of Businessman Ross Perot in 1992. While conventional wisdom holds that Perot siphoned votes almost exclusively form Republican George H.W. Bush, exit polls show that his appeal was split evenly. The data indicates that 38% would have supported Bush, 38% would have supported Democrat Bill Clinton, and 24% would not have voted.

Perot's populist insurrectionist campaign appealed to fiscal conservatives who had supported former U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas (D-MA) in the Democratic Primary. In fact, a group of his supporters, called TCitizens for Tsongas (playing on the silent 'T' in Tsongas), backed Perot in the General Election campaign. In addition, Perot's Economic Nationalism and opposition to the Persian Gulf War exhibited cross-partisan appeal. Some supporters of the populist anti-establishment candidacies of former California Governor Jerry Brown in the Democratic Primary and Republican activist Pat Buchanan in the Republican Primary that year were drawn to Perot's populist insurrectionist message.

On the issues where Sanders' supporters diverge from Clinton supporters, Schweitzer is more ideologically in-tune with Sanders. Schweitzer brands Washington, DC as "a giant cesspool of special interests." He is simpatico with Sanders in excoriating the influence of "the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies, the big banks." Schweitzer bemoans: "You go to Wall Street. They're the ones who can write the fat checks." His line of attack on Clinton, tethering her to corporate interests, would be similar to Sanders' strategy. Schweitzer warns, "We need to have a strong middle class again. We can't have a Democratic Party that is corporate-lite."

Like Sanders, Schweitzer is a proponent of establishing a single-payer Healthcare system. As Governor, he inaugurated the first publicly-run medical clinic for retirees and state employees. He praises the Canadian system and bemoans the influence of corporate interests in the drafting of the Affordable Care Act, maintaing the act gives "taxpayer dollars to private insurance companies."

On the issue of international trade, Schweitzer sides with both Sanders and Trump in opposing recently brokered agreements. He is a critic of NAFTA and the TPP. In 2006, Schweitzer rhetorically asked The New York Times: "Why is it that America supposedly creates the best businessmen in the world, but when we go to the table with the Third World, we come away losers?"

If Clinton were the Democratic nominee, Trump might be able to purloin some rustbelt Democrats by highlighting her waffling on trade issues. If he were in the race, Schweitzer might be able to take many of these voters who would be uncomfortable supporting Trump.

As for foreign interventions, Schweitzer, like Sanders, is critical of military interventions, but his opposition is deeply rooted in the fundamental paradigm of U.S. foreign policy. Schweitzer wages opprobrium on the "military industrial complex." He sees the blowback that U.S. foreign policy can effectuate against the U.S. Here, his rhetoric is eerily similar to U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) who galvanized Americans of all political persuasions in his 2008 and 2012 Presidential runs by introducing the concept of blowback into the American political dialogue.

Like Paul, Schweitzer uses the example of Iran to illustrate the deleterious effects of U.S. intervention abroad. Schweitzer points out that the tension between the U.S. and Iran began "because of what we did in 1953, replacing an elected official [Prime Minster Mohammed Mossadegh] with a dictator [Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi]." Schweitzer also points out that the U.S. government supplied chemical weapons to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1980's, which were subsequently used against Iranians. His characterization of the Iraq War as an "oil-well war to protect profits for multinational oil companies and petro-dictators" would strike a resonate chord with both liberal and libertarian non-interventionists.

Furthermore, Schweitzer could appeal to Libertarian-leaning voters with his opposition to the scope of the NSA surveillance program, calling it "un-effenbelievalbe." In addition, he declared the War on Drugs lost and suggests Colorado, in legalizing marijuana: "might have it more right than the rest of us."

Schweitzer could also draw the support of some center-right voters with his opposition to most gun control measures, his support of expanding domestic coal production, and his support for the construction of the Keystone pipeline.

Finally, Schweitzer's shoot-from-the-hip unadulterated style, coupled with his anti-establishment rhetoric, is advantageous in an election where the candidates are trying to present themselves as authentic, and from outside the beltway. His image as a rancher who regularly sports cowboy boots, and his folksy dialect contribute to his image as an outsider.

In a Trump-Clinton matchup, a Schweitzer Independent bid could be a major challenge to the electoral hegemony of the two major parties. He would offer eclectic appeal. Schweitzer's populist message would resonate with those Sanders supporters who are skeptical of Clinton, Libertarian-oriented voters who would find little common ground with the major candidates, and low-propensiity voters who would be disenchanted with the offerings of both parties. Like Perot in 1992, the moment is right for an Independent candidate, and Schweitzer would pocket significant support from across the American political spectrum.