- Tom Bromwich
Bill Weld - Returning the Republicans to the centre?
91%. This is currently the support Donald Trump enjoys from the Republican Party running into primary season. However, he has an insurgent challenger, a man who hasn’t held elected office since the mid 1990s, a man who has risen a whole 2% since November 2019 to a commanding 5%, and a man who’s essential message is fighting populism with establishment moderation.
Governor Bill Weld of Massachusetts is what remains of the Republican Party of George H W Bush. He is a New England moderate advocating for various progressive policies such as the right to choose, LGBT rights, same sex marriage, and recognition of climate change. Weld has a consistent history of supporting these issues. In 1991, Governor Weld introduced a bill to make abortion more accessible in his state, moreover he also fought against the negative stigma and rhetoric surrounding the deeply sensitive issue within the Republican Party.
He has not been a popular figure within the Republican Party. His internal reforms in regards to abortion, and his support for tighter gun controls have cost him chances to further his political career. For example, following his pro-choice stance, social conservatives within the Republican Senate majority in the 1990s voted against his confirmation as Ambassador for Mexico by President Clinton and in 2005 the New York Republican Party vetoed his bid for the governorship of New York. Moreover, Weld is supportive of the legalisation of marijuana across the US. He is a director of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company, and has publicly supported this small ‘l’ libertarian stance since the early 1990s. In his words “100 million Americans who’ve smoked dope are not criminals”.
Fiscally, Weld stands apart from his party. He is in favour of rejoining the Trans Pacific Partnership “in a heartbeat”, is opposed to tariffs, and is anti-protectionism citing it as the cause of the 1920s Great Depression. Weld is interested in expanding Medicaid, including more consumer choice in healthcare insurance, and has an incremental plan to “tweak” Obamacare including more market mechanisms and providing a greater role to patients and doctors. However, as Governor of Massachusetts, Weld remained consistently fiscally conservative and cut taxes 16 times (“I never met a tax cut I didn’t like”), privatised public services, and vetoed minimum wage increases. He has described himself as a “filthy supply sider”. Essentially, Weld is a Reagan Republican fiscally, but a Ford Republican socially.
His unpopularity within the current party led him to run as Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee in 2016 where the ticket he stood on accrued around 3% of the vote, giving the best showing for a 3rd Party in America since 1992. He has since described Trump’s immigration policy as “Nazi-like”, the Trump Presidency as “impeachable”, and the current Republican agenda as “hurtful to America and the World”. Trump has mocked Weld for being “a man who couldn’t stand up straight” citing a moment when Weld collapsed delivering a speech at Bentley College in 1996. Apart from this Trump has given Weld virtually no attention.
Weld’s 2020 voters are liberal Republicans, most of whom reside in New England. Out of the states he has performed best in, New England’s New Hampshire delivered him a whopping 9% of the vote against Trump’s 84%. Yes, there is an ongoing ‘aww bless’ narrative through this article, but an incumbent President has never been ousted in a primary. The closest to this happening was in 1976 between incumbent Ford and insurgent Reagan (53% - 46%). Weld admits he is a long-shot to win. He concedes he is unlikely to win any states. Even in his home state of Massachusetts he is polling at around 18% to Trump’s 82% (April, 2019). What he is seeking to do is undermine Trump’s stranglehold on the party and seek to show moderates that there is an alternative to the “half-baked, spurious nationalism” which has engulfed the party, in the words of the late great John McCain.
If Weld and his sole delegate from Iowa can remain in the race until the Republican convention, have good performances in the North East and West Coasts, get a good turnout from the section of the Republican Party who disapprove of his presidency (averaging at 10%), mount a strong enough bid to encourage independents to vote in open primaries and hope that he can undermine Trump with this small vote share and couple dozen delegates, then maybe, just maybe, the Republicans might swing back to the centre. But that is not going to happen. Simply look at the rebranding of the Republicans to the Trump Family Party, and the scrapping of various primaries in Nevada, South Carolina, and Arizona by the lackeys within the Party whose biggest concern is who can leech off Trump the most, who can wage a crusade against ‘snowflakes’ despite getting outraged when they see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing, and who can say the most outlandish thing. Perhaps Weld is too decent to belong to such a party. His effort to save it is bold and admirable, but these qualities are better served electing a moderate Democrat such as Joe Biden to the presidency. If moderate, liberal Republicans want to save the party, they will do just this…
Image - Flickr.