Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the Democratic Future

Mark my words: if Brian Schweitzer runs for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, he will do exceptionally well. Michael Warren’s profile of Schweitzer in the Weekly Standard helps illustrate why. Consider that though Howard Dean was widely regarded as a moderate governor of Vermont, his forceful opposition to the Iraq war helped him vault to prominence as a champion of the Democratic left. Schweitzer has moderate bona fides as well — his defense of gun rights, his entrepreneurial bent, the emphasis he placed on tax cuts and spending restraint as governor — yet he is also a populist who championed causes like the re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada.

The reason I think Schweitzer could shake up the race is that, as Warren notes, he has been a consistent critic of Obamacare from the left:

So what are Schweitzer’s progressive bona fides? For one thing, he has no patience for Democratic third way-ism on economic issues. It’s the perspective that prompts him to refer to Obama’s presidency as corporatist. He criticizes Obamacare from the left, blaming fellow Montanan Max Baucus (the chairman of the Senate committee responsible for drafting much of the law) for allowing special interests to influence the bill. “This bill, which was written by the insurance company and pharmaceutical lobbyists, doesn’t challenge the expenses,” Schweitzer tells me. “Why would it? If you’re in the business, and you get to write the bill, what are you going to do?”

His own national health care reform would “fit on the back of an envelope.” Explaining the whole thing takes him half an hour. (“Am I boring you yet?” he asks around minute 25.) At the center of his proposal is allowing citizens below the retirement age to enroll in Medicare, forcing private insurers to compete against the government rate.

“As you probably recall .  .  . most Democrats were calling for a public option. .  .  . But what came out of the Senate Finance Committee did not have a public option,” Schweitzer says, blaming health insurance lobbyists and their enablers in both parties. “We now have the corporate party and the corporate-lite party.” [Emphasis added]

My guess is that Obamacare will still be plagued by problems come 2015 and 2016, and that while some liberals will continue to defend it, others will be looking to absolve themselves of responsibility for its various deficiencies. One assumes that there will be more than one Democratic candidate willing to champion Medicare-for-all, and other policies favored by the left. But Schweitzer is more charismatic than Warren and O’Malley, and his anti-Washington sentiment comes across as more pungent and authentic. Democrats unwilling to line up behind Hillary Clinton (or Joe Biden) might see Schweitzer as an appealing alternative, not least because he seems like the kind of candidate who could attract independents and perhaps even some Republicans. Schweitzer would be foolish not to give running for president serious consideration.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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