Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld officially announced Monday, to the applause of almost no one, that he will challenge President Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination. His bid will go down in flames, as it deserves.
Weld has long marched to the tune of his own inner drummer, but this drummer is wildly offbeat. His campaign strategist says Weld will place a major emphasis on the New Hampshire primary. That makes theoretical sense, as New Hampshire’s GOP has long been more moderate than that of the nation as a whole. But a recent Emerson College poll showed Trump had an 80 percent job-approval rating among Granite State Republicans and that he would whip Weld 82-to-18 if the race were held today. To quote Rick Perry, “Oops.”
Weld would be a hapless, hopeless candidate even if he were not running against an incumbent who remains quite popular with the GOP rank and file. He has flitted to and fro across the political map, accepting a nomination to become ambassador to Mexico from President Bill Clinton and endorsing Barack Obama against Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008. In 2016, the patrician gadfly even ran as the vice-presidential nominee on the Libertarian ticket.
But wait, there’s more. Weld couldn’t even stay loyal to his new party when he was running as its candidate. In early November 2016, he told Rachel Maddow what a great person Hillary Clinton was and that voters who were going to choose between the two major-party candidates should choose her. His 40 years of friendship with Clinton (which started while they served as junior lawyers on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate hearings) had convinced him that she was “a person of high moral character.” Try telling that to the Republican Party, many of whose voters eagerly had chanted “lock her up.”
Personal characteristics aside, even a blank slate couldn’t get Weld the Republican nomination, given his issue positions. He has long been supportive of abortion rights. He was an ostentatious social liberal during his tenure as Massachusetts governor, which is one reason some conservative Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm him as ambassador to Mexico. He attacked Trump’s immigration and trade proposals during the 2016 campaign, and he called for free trade when he announced his exploratory committee in February. In each case, Weld is out of step with most Republican voters.
His campaign even had the chutzpah to call him a “Reagan Republican.” The campaign bases this claim on the fact that Weld served in the Reagan Justice Department as head of its criminal division. What it neglects to mention is that Weld resigned from the department over the conduct of Attorney General Edwin Meese III, Reagan’s friend and confidant of more than 20 years. According to Reagan’s diary, he met with Weld on April 20, 1988, to discuss why he and one other official were resigning. He then met with Meese, who “gave chapter & verse of the dept’s. activities which completely rebutted their story.” In soccer, they call that an own goal.
Weld is so out of step and idiosyncratic that he wouldn’t even be able to act as a John the Baptist for a subsequent savior to emerge in his footsteps. To successfully preach and gain converts, you need to offer a message that will resonate with people. There are people who, like Weld, see Trump as a menace to the country, support abortion rights, favor reentering the Paris climate accords and think Clinton is a person of high moral character. They are called Democrats, and they will be listening to 17 or so of their own preachers in the New Hampshire primary to decide who can lead them to salvation.
Weld will be like John the Baptist in one way, however. He will be a “voice crying out in the wilderness.” The only unanswered question is how many others will join him.