HELENA — Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer set off a media and social media firestorm Wednesday night, as a magazine reported his comments about his “gaydar” going off over recently ousted U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and equating U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein with a prostitute.
When talking about Cantor’s surprising electoral defeat two weeks ago, Schweitzer told the National Journal that he thinks Southern men (Cantor is from Virginia) “are a little effeminate,” and that “my gaydar is 60 to 70 percent” when he sees Cantor.
He also said Feinstein, a California Democrat, was “the woman who was standing under the streetlight with her dress pulled all the way up over her knees” when she earlier supported government spying on citizens.
“Now she says 'I’m a nun' when it comes to this spying,” Schweitzer reportedly said. “I mean, maybe that’s the wrong metaphor — but she was all in!”
On Wednesday evening, the National Journal — a Washington, D.C.-based magazine that covers politics and public policy — released a lengthy feature story on Schweitzer as a possible Democratic presidential candidate.
By Thursday afternoon, Schweitzer had issued an apology on his Facebook page.
“I recently made a number of stupid and insensitive remarks to a reporter from the National Journal,” he posted. “I am deeply sorry and sincerely apologize for my carelessness and disregard.”
Schweitzer, who appears as an occasional commentator on MSNBC, could not be reached Thursday for further comment.
Within minutes of the release, his comments on Cantor and Feinstein prompted a steady stream of reaction on Twitter.
Chris Cillizza, editor of the Washington Post’s political blog “The Fix,” tweeted “that Brian Schweitzer for president talk was fun while it lasted;” another “Fix” writer penned a column saying Schweitzer “basically (has) no filter,” and other national political figures weighed in as well.
Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager and a former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Max Baucusm D-Mont., said on Twitter that Montanans know Schweitzer is the “most overrated pol (in) memory,” and that “offensive comments and bolo ties don’t get you (the president of the United States).”
The reactions reverberated across the political world most of Thursday.
Feinstein told Politico, a political website and publication, that people had “better keep (Schweitzer) away from my husband,” and then made a common hand gesture suggesting the remarks by the former governor are mentally off.
The Montana Human Rights Network, a group that investigates white supremacists and advocates for gay rights, also put out a statement Thursday castigating the former governor.
“The problem with Brian Schweitzer’s comments is that he used stereotypes of gay men and a sexist put-down about women, and those kind of hurtful statements don’t have a place in a healthy democracy,” said Rachel Carroll Rivas, the network’s co-director. “We expect our leaders to set a good example. Clearly he didn’t, in this case.”
David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University who follows state politics and who has met and spoken with Schweitzer, said he was mystified by the ex-governor’s comments — and that they could clearly harm any presidential ambitions he might be harboring.
“I’ve been trying to figure this guy out since I moved (to Montana),” Parker said Thursday. “The man is bright, and brilliant and a great showman … and then he says stuff like this.
“If you want to run for president, he just ticked off two big components (of the Democratic Party) that you need to vote for you in the primary. I mean, who’s going to give him money?”
Several national publications have done stories on Schweitzer in recent weeks, focusing on whether he might challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
Salon, an online publication that covers politics and the arts, published an interview Thursday with Schweitzer, in which he sounded off on foreign policy, health care reform and other issues.
Schweitzer has suggested he may be considering a presidential run, but has yet to file any official papers as a candidate. He and his wife, Nancy, live at their home on Georgetown Lake, west of Anaconda.