Brian Schweitzer’s flap-happy mouth landed him in more than the usual peck of trouble last week. After the National Journal printed a lengthy profile of Montana’s bolo-festooned ex-governor, the public exploded with outrage over a pair of indelicate remarks he’d made about Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Pundits were crawling over each other to declare Schweitzer’s supposed 2016 presidential bid officially dead. Even we posed the question whether the gaffe would stop a potential campaign before it ever started.
Upon further reflection, however, we’re not entirely convinced this latest foot-in-mouth caper was as damaging as it was made out to be.
Yes, Schweitzer’s metaphor involving Feinstein “standing under the streetlight with her dress pulled all the way up over her knees” was crass. Yes, his assertion that Cantor’s “effeminate mannerisms” trigger his “gaydar” was random, bizarre and insulting. But was either comment all that shocking coming from a man who told a reporter in 2012 that Mitt Romney’s family came “from a polygamy commune in Mexico,” who accused Republican legislators in 2011 of looking “bat-crap crazy,” who had his driver pull a U-turn on a five-lane highway in the Flathead with an Indy reporter in the car just to look at tractors?
If anything about the recent kerfuffle was mildly surprising, it was the fact that Schweitzer apologized via Facebook for what he admitted were “stupid and insensitive remarks.” The post attracted 311 comments at last count. Most were what you’d expect: justifiably pissed-off people declining—in many cases with profanity—to accept the apology. A few broke the trend, however, thanking Schweitzer for owning up to his carelessness and even lauding his usual candor.
In a world of Beltway politicians and presidential dynasties, people obviously see something different in Schweitzer. Despite the ridiculousness of his political theater, Montanans still talk about the time he wielded VETO branding irons on the Capitol steps, the time he blasted targets with an AR-15 or the time he cruised around New York City handing out Montana-made products.
His mouth runs, sometimes to unfortunate places, but his statements were hardly the biggest scandal to hit a campaign trail. Schweitzer’s cantankerousness, his unpredictability, his complete lack of filter all fascinate the public in a way few other politicians do. He may not have much of a shot in 2016, but to say last week’s comments are a game-changing gaffe is bat-crap crazy.