For those who are not aware, Donald J. Trump has a challenger for the Republican nomination. Yes, despite the President’s 87 percent approval rating within his own party and the GOP essentially taking away the oxygen for any primary challenge, William F. Weld is running for President.
Who is Bill Weld?
Bill Weld was a two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, successfully getting elected and re-elected in an overwhelmingly liberal state that had not seen a GOP governor in twenty years. As governor, he had a track record of being fiscally conservative but socially liberal, cutting state taxes and balancing their budget while championing gun control, abortion, and same-sex marriage. In 2016, Bill Weld, together with fellow ex-Republican Gary Johnson, would run on the ticket of the Libertarian Party for Vice President and President of the United States, respectively. They would garner 3.3 percent of the national popular vote, a record for the Libertarian Party.
Why is Weld running?
According to Weld’s campaign website, he’s running “because America deserves better”. Bill Weld believes that the President has been indecent, emphasizing in his campaign video Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of the late Sen. John McCain, his assertions of there being “fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, and mocking a disabled reporter. Weld has also criticized what he perceives as Trump’s friendliness towards more authoritarian presidents such as Vladimir Putin and Mohammed Bin Salman while endangering America’s ties to its partners in NATO and in its other alliances. He alleges that Trump has been ignoring the voices of the American people and that the nation is suffering, and that, he says, is why he’s running.
The Relevance of Weld’s Campaign
Many in the media have called Weld’s candidacy as “quixotic”. And they are right. Whether people like it or not, Trump has absolute control of the GOP as of the moment and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Party leaders and sitting Republicans know that opposing Trump won’t do them any good, not when the President has done this great of a job in shoring up his base and preparing for reelection campaign immediately after he was elected into his first term. Being an anti-Trump Republican is political suicide right now with record employment, economic growth, conservative appointees to the judiciary, and much more in the President’s favor.
It doesn’t help Weld’s case that he has a track record of being pro-choice at a time when GOP-controlled states are passing laws that greatly restrict access to abortion and are essentially challenging Roe vs Wade; of supporting same-sex marriage, when Pew Research Center reports that 56 percent of Republicans are against; of pushing gun control legislation in Massachusetts; of supporting affirmative action and Medicaid expansion; of opposing Trump’s immigration policies. Oh, and yeah, he endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and also Barack Obama in 2008, so that won’t play well in his favor.
Weld won’t win, but it’s about some of the issues he brings to the table.
First is the economy. Yes, the economy is positive right now, thanks in large part to the Trump administration’s efforts to incentivize jobs to return in the United States and for industries to grow and develop. But the national debt is not going anywhere. The Trump tax cuts haven’t helped on that end, lowering government revenue, and the budget isn’t exactly being cut either. Social security spending is still massive, military expenses are still ballooning. The merits of these programs are issues of their own, but the truth is, the U.S. debt is not being sufficiently addressed, and concerned Republicans know that this might come to bite Americans back in the future. These have all led to critics to question whether Trump really is a fiscal conservative, because his administration isn’t pointing to that. As a governor, Bill Weld cut state taxes 21 times, and balanced the Massachusetts budget in his two terms. Weld has some credibility to his name if he decides to emphasize the debt issue. He can and should make this issue a major talking point because it is something Americans should care about. And by just attracting more attention to the national debt, especially within the Republican party, within the base of the President himself, will already be an achievement.
Second is Weld’s attacks on President Trump’s words and behavior. Truly, these have been an enormous tool for Trump to retain and build up his base from 2016 until now. But Bill Weld raises a fundamental question to the office, the position, of the presidency itself. Are Republicans really alright with how Donald Trump has been acting as president? Because at best, Trump has been characterized as critical, outspoken, and frank. At worst, divisive, polarizing, racist, xenophobic, irrational, even crazy. These words may often come from the liberal media and the Democrats, but Republicans should not just dismiss these entirely. Besides, President Trump has not exactly been a moral authority for Americans either. Bill Weld’s candidacy in and of itself is a question to Republican voters whether they are fine with a president that did not completely disavow white nationalists, that made light of a veteran and a war hero in Sen. McCain, and that said many other things that can be labelled not just as unpresidential, but improper. The answers will not come in the Republican primaries, perhaps not even in 2020, but definitely much later on, when the direction of the GOP after Trump is in question.
When all is said and done in 2020, Bill Weld will just be a footnote. But Weld’s words are sure to get some Republicans thinking. Will Trumpism and Trump-style politics be the new identity of the GOP, or will reconsideration be given to the Old Guard, the establishment GOP that Trump overwhelmed in 2016?