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