Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer showed up on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning to talk about prospects for the Democratic Party.
Schweitzer’s name has been tossed around as a possible Democratic candidate to replace Ryan Zinke in the U.S. House of Representatives if Zinke is confirmed as President Trump’s secretary of the Interior. The speculation hasn’t come from Schweitzer, who has kept quiet about his political prospects since early talk about a run for president ended with a couple of ill-considered remarks to the National Journal in 2014.
Given how the 2016 race played out, those remarks seem almost comically innocent. But Schweitzer publicly apologized and talk of his candidacy dried up.
CNN moderator Jake Tapper didn’t ask about the House race on Sunday, but Schweitzer, wearing a neatly trimmed goatee and a bolo tie, seems not to have lost any of his political savvy. Asked why Barack Obama ran so much stronger in Montana in 2008 than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 (Obama lost by two points, Clinton by 22), Schweitzer replied, “Well, maybe the governor that was running for re-election got 66 percent of the vote. Maybe.”
That governor, of course, was Schweitzer.
Schweitzer also had more substantive things to say. Using one of the folksy metaphors he is known for, he said that if you go fishing, you can’t just put your line down next to the boat. You have to stand up and cast as far as you can.
Trump, he said, threw the line far from the boat and was able to appeal to working-class voters.
“He said things that Republicans hated to hear,” Schweitzer said.
Democrats made the mistake of sticking close to their base and acting like they were the smartest person in the room.
“I want them to be the smartest person in the room,” he said, “but I don’t want them talking like they’re the smartest person in the room.”
Democrats also supported trade deals that hurt some working Americans, he said, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and what he called “SHAFTA,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Democrats even took the blame for Obamacare, which Schweitzer said was drawn from a Republican plan to enrich insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
“Obamacare was a Republican idea passed by Democrats,” he said.
The most striking thing Schweitzer said was that political success comes not from advocating a set of policies but from finding common ground on which people can discuss what matters to them.
“You win elections because values unite people,” he said. “Issues divide.”