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Bill Weld Candidacy Gives Republicans A Choice

Weld’s candidacy is a long shot, but it should not be discounted.

Republican voters now officially have a choice between President Trump and another candidate in the 2020 Republican primary. Bill Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts and Gary Johnson’s Libertarian running mate from 2016, has officially thrown his hat into the ring to challenge Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination.

Weld made the announcement with CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier today, saying, “I really think if we have six more years of the same stuff that we’ve had out of the White House [over] the last two years that it would be a political tragedy and I would fear for the Republic, so I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t raise my hand and run.”

Tapper cited the Trump campaign’s report of raising $30 million in the first quarter and Donald Trump’s 90 percent approval within the GOP and asked Weld whether he really thought he could win a primary battle against the incumbent president. “I do, I’ve done it before,” Weld answered, “particularly in New Hampshire where I’m spending a lot of time. It’s one vote at a time and one voter at a time. You’ve got to meet them.”

Weld added, “What we have now is a president who mocks the rule of law. I spent seven years in the Justice Department trying to keep the politics out of law enforcement, he’s trying to put it in. A president who says we don’t need a free press, who says climate change is a complete hoax. He’s not paying attention.”

President Trump “has difficulty conforming his conduct to the requirements of law. That’s a serious matter in the Oval Office,” Weld continued.

Weld was born in New York, but most of his career has centered around Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he got his start as a legal counsel for the US House Judiciary Committee, where he took part in the Watergate investigation and impeachment inquiry of Richard Nixon. In 1981, Rudy Giuliani recommended him to President Reagan and he was appointed US Attorney for Massachusetts before serving as Reagan’s Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. In 1990, he was elected to the first of two terms as governor of Massachusetts but lost a 1996 Senate race to John Kerry. In 2005, he was a candidate for governor of New York but did not win the Republican nomination. In 2012, Weld was co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s New York campaign, but in recent history, he is best known for his 2016 Libertarian campaign with Gary Johnson. Contrary to rumors, Weld did not endorse Hillary Clinton that year, but he did “vouch” for her after FBI Director James Comey’s October surprise announcement that more Clinton emails had been discovered.

Weld faces an uphill battle in his campaign against President Trump. He has a reputation as being liberal on many social issues such as gay rights, abortion, and marijuana. Those positions, along with conservative stances on fiscal issues, made him a good fit for the Libertarian ticket but will not sit well with many Republicans. They may help with moderate Republicans, however. Among Republicans, about a third are pro-choice, about 40 percent favor same-sex marriage, and about half support legalization of marijuana. While Trump has been active in signing pro-life Executive Orders, he has been quiet on the issue of marriage and there are rumors that the president will soon announce support of marijuana legalization as well.

Donald Trump currently has an overall average approval rating of only 42 percent, but the president still has approval approaching 90 percent among Republicans. Trump’s overwhelming popularity within the GOP will make it very difficult to unseat him in the primary unless his administration experiences an almost total meltdown over the next year. However, Trump’s unpopularity among other voters will make it very difficult for the president to win a re-election campaign. A March poll found that 46 percent of voters would refuse to even consider voting for Trump.

Even with Trump’s strong approval among Republicans, there may be an appetite for a primary challenger. Another poll taken last month found that 19 percent of Republicans had lukewarm support for Trump’s re-election campaign and 20 percent wanted another candidate. A state-by-state look at Trump’s approval shows that the president has slim margins in many deep red states. A challenger whose primary campaign focused on blue and swing states could make serious trouble for an unpopular president.

Weld has signaled that his strategy will be to focus on the early primary state of New Hampshire where Trump has a net disapproval of 13 points. Weld will canvas the area and meet voters face-to-face. This strategy can work in a small state like New Hampshire, but would obviously be impractical in a national series of primary elections.

A smart strategy for Weld would be to temper his direct criticism of President Trump and focus on the president’s most unpopular policies. On a number of issues, such as separation of immigrant families and using a national emergency to bypass Congress, Trump has lost even the support of Republican voters. The trade war, the ballooning deficit, and the president’s poor relations with allies also provide openings. By focusing on Trump’s unpopular policies and his inability to bring the country together, Weld might have a chance at winning enough moderate and conservative voters who are dissatisfied with the direction of the Trump Administration and skeptical about Trump’s ability to win against someone who is not Hillary Clinton to seize the nomination.

Weld’s candidacy is a long shot, but it should not be discounted. In an era in which the news cycle spins faster and faster and President Trump seems more and more out of touch with the electorate at large, by next year Republican voters could find themselves thankful to have an alternative to the outsider in the White House.

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