Bill Weld Taking On Trump,
and Wants To Help Take Him Out

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Former Massachusetts governor William Weld is planning to challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican primary, in hopes of winning the party’s nomination or at least weakening Trump.

Weld announced his likely candidacy Friday morning during a speech in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Weld, who ran in 2016 as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for vice president, returned to the Republican Party recently. A questioner noted that no intraparty challenger in modern times has ever defeated a sitting president in a primary.

Weld signaled that if he doesn’t defeat Trump directly, he’d like to see someone else replace him.

“As to the difficulty of challenging an incumbent president, it does lie in my mind that in the last nine elections where a sitting president ran for re-election, in four instances, that president was challenged in a primary in his own party. In all four of those instances, that president lost, and did not get re-elected. In the other five instances, no one stood up, there was no primary challenge, and the incumbent president coasted to re-election. That’s a nice statistic,” Weld said, according to a video of the appearance published by WBTS-LD NBC Boston Channel 10.

Weld acknowledged he has a steep climb. Trump has an 83 percent approval rating among Republican voters in New Hampshire, according to a poll released earlier this month by the Saint Anselm Institute of Politics.

A resident of Amherst, New Hampshire asked Weld if he would support Trump for re-election if Trump wins the primary.

“You know, I’m not sure about that. I find the current incumbent a difficult act to swallow. So I’m not sure quite what I would do there,” Weld said. “You know, maybe somebody else will step up, either a third party, or an independent candidate. So there may be other options. I wouldn’t be at all surprised now that I’ve stood up to see other Republicans get in and stand up, as well.”

In October 2008 Weld endorsed Barack Obama, a Democrat, for president over John McCain, a Republican. In November 2016, while ostensibly campaigning for the Libertarian ticket he was on, Weld told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, “Well, I’m here vouching for Mrs. Clinton, and I think it’s high time somebody did,” while expressing concern about Trump.

During his speech Friday, Weld criticized Trump heavily, saying America “is in grave peril.”

“We have a president whose priorities are skewed towards promotion of himself rather than toward the good of the country,” Weld said. “He may have great energy and considerable raw talent, but he does not use them in ways that promote democracy, truth, justice, and equal opportunity for all. To compound matters, our president is simply too unstable to carry out the duties of the highest executive office in the land, which include the specific duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Weld served as the Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to July 1997, when he resigned mid-term to pursue unsuccessfully a nomination as ambassador to Mexico. He has been out of government ever since, working mostly as a lawyer, although he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor of New York in 2006.

During a 20-minute speech, Weld hit Trump from the right on fiscal issues and from the left on immigration and climate change. He steered clear of social issues, including legal abortion, which he favors, against the majority of Republican primary voters.

Weld emphasized libertarian themes on the economy, including smaller government and lower taxes.

“First of all, the amount of extra debt being run up in Washington is completely crazy. The administration is spending a trillion dollars a year more than it takes in. And they call themselves conservatives!” Weld said.

Trump took a question along similar lines during a press conference Friday on the White House grounds. He said that when he took office he had to sharply increase spending for the military because it was in such bad shape, which accounts for much of the increase in government spending on his watch.

As to the federal government’s large operating deficit, Trump said promoting the economy is the key.

“Well, it’s all about growth. … Growth will straighten it out,” Trump said.

Weld called for a cutting government first, staking out a position against both Trump and left-wing Democrats in Congress.

“Unfortunately, especially in the left wing of the Democratic Party, socialism seems to have replaced any notion of spending restraint. We need the opposite of socialism,” Weld said. “In the federal budget, the two most important tasks are to cut spending and to cut taxes. And cutting spending comes first.”

Weld called for so-called “zero-based” budgeting, meaning that each line item in the federal budget should have a default position of zero dollars with the presumption that each department must justify anew its allotment before every fiscal year, instead of assuming an increase in the previous year’s line item.

“We need to zero-base the federal budget, and base each appropriation every year on outcomes actually achieved the previous year, not on last year’s appropriation plus 5 percent, which is how altogether too many folks in Washington use as a starting point,” Weld said.

Weld touted his time as governor of Massachusetts, noting that in the early years of his administration he steered state government toward reducing spending and outsourcing some social services to private nonprofit organizations. The federal government should do the same, he said.

“Based on our experience in Massachusetts, this would save a great deal of taxpayers’ money, and at the same time improve the quality of the services and the degree of compassion and dignity for the people receiving those services. The reason is that monopoly services are always less efficient, and thus more costly, than competitively priced services,” Weld said. “So the key distinction here is not public versus private, it’s monopoly versus competition.”

“The best way to deal with government spending, in fact, is to deal with it as Smoky the Bear recommends dealing with fire:  Keep it small, keep it in a confined area, and keep it under observation.”

Weld called for repealing the federal estate tax (called the “death tax” by opponents) and cutting the federal capital gains tax to 10 percent. (It’s currently 15 or 20 percent at certain income thresholds.) He also called for “taking a good hard look” at replacing the federal government’s current complicated graduated income tax system (which has a maximum marginal rate of 37 percent) with a flat income tax of 19 percent on a tax return “no bigger than a postcard.”

Weld sidestepped whether the government should repeal Obamacare on the grounds that there is no consensus in Congress, instead calling for establishing health care savings accounts for individuals and allowing people to buy prescription drugs across state lines and in other countries.

After the speech Weld took a few questions challenging him on whether Republicans should trust him, since he left the party a little more than two years ago.

He used one question to take a shot at Trump, linking him with anti-immigrant nativism.

“It feels good to be back there with the ‘R’ on my name. But I will say: I’m not rejoining the Know Nothing Party. I’m rejoining the party of Lincoln. And I’m going to try to make that one stick, one-on-one, with our president,” Weld said.

The Know Nothing Party, which briefly took power in Massachusetts during the 1850s, was anti-immigrant and particularly anti-Irish Catholic.

“As we move toward the 2020 election year, each of us must also strive to remember and uphold the difference between the open heart, open mind, and open-handedness of patriotism, versus the hard heart, closed mind, and clenched fist of nativism and nationalism,” Weld said.

On immigration, Weld called for “a robust guest worker program” to help agriculture and construction and for offering “more and longer work visas” to foreigners without giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

“We may not need a long, impenetrable wall, but we do need short-term bridges,” Weld said.

Immigration skeptics question the term “guest worker,” which is similar to language former President George W. Bush used during the early 2000s, and which critics say is used to mask effectively open borders.

During a series of rhetorical questions in his speech, Weld criticized Trump’s skepticism on climate change. The president has railed against proposed taxes on carbon and the so-called Green New Deal.

“He ridicules and dismisses the looming threats against climate change. Why is that?” Weld said.

Later, Weld said the United States should rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change of 2015, which President Trump announced the United States would withdraw from in November 2020.

Weld dwelled on climate change at length:

With respect to the environment and climate change, the approach of the current administration is antithetical to every principle of conservation and conservatism, and every tenant of Theodore Roosevelt’s Grand Old Party. Whether it’s as protection of a fragile ecosystem, or as stewardship of God’s creation, take your choice, there’s a pressing need to act on climate change. The United States must rejoin the Paris climate accords, and adopt targets consonant with those of other industrialized nations. We must protect our economy, yes, but we must also recognize that increased natural disasters and unfamiliar weather patterns actually threaten to strip the snow from our White Mountains, and to melt all the mountain glaciers worldwide, upon which hundreds of millions of people depend for their only water supply. Europe has its cathedrals and monuments. We have our mountains, canyons, valleys, rivers, and streams, and we had damn well better take care of them. Our borders are safe here in New Hampshire, but it’s not a stretch to say that if climate change is not addressed, our coastlines, and those of all other countries will over time be obliterated by storm surge and the melting of the polar ice cap. Yet climate skeptics claim that they are conservative.

On trade, Weld noted that he helped negotiate the original North American Free Trade Agreement during the 1990s and that he lobbied Republicans in Congress to vote for it. Against Trump, Weld called for an end to tariffs on foreign goods, saying free trade is a boost for the American economy.

Weld said 25 percent of all current jobs won’t exist in their current form in 15 years because of automation, and he called for government to pay for two-year training programs in community colleges for displaced workers, comparable to the G.I. Bill that the federal government offered for returning military personnel after World War II.

On education, Weld called for more options for parents, including support for school choice, charter schools, and homeschooling.

“And we need to consider seriously abolishing the United States Department of Education, transferring decision-making authority to the states and to the parents of school-age and college-age children,” Weld said.

Weld was asked at one point if there is one particular moment of Trump’s presidency that led him to want to challenge Trump in the primary. Weld singled out a time in May 2017 when Trump excluded American reporters from a meeting with Russian officials while allowing the Russian state-run news organization Tass to cover the event. He also addressed that point earlier in his prepared speech.

“He acts like a schoolyard bully, except, of course, when he’s around other bullies, like Mr. Putin, and then he turns ingratiating, all smiles, kicks the American press out of the Oval Office, and has his summit meeting with Mr. Putin with no news media present except Tass, the state organ of Russia,” Weld said. “For what possible reason?”

Weld got a key detail wrong – the meeting wasn’t with Putin, whom Trump has met with five times, but never inside the United States. The meeting in the Oval Office was with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to the United States.

After the meeting, a follow-up story by NBC News in May 2017 reported that White House officials thought they were excluding all members of the press from a meeting with foreign officials, which they said is customary when the president meets with foreign dignitaries who are not a head of state. An unnamed White House official told NBC News that the Russian photographer was presented as the official photographer for the Russian foreign minister, and that he did not disclose that he also works for Tass.

On Friday, Weld was asked about President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to justify spending $8 billion to extend the wall on the southern border with Mexico.

Weld said he disagrees with Trump on immigration and with the president’s declaration of a national emergency, but he said he doesn’t consider it an impeachable offense.

“So I don’t think it’s an emergency, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world for him to do this. As a matter of fact it’s quite in character — ‘I must have this, I’m going to grab it’,” Weld said.

The tone of Weld’s speech and answers to questions was mostly serious, leavened by one moment of mirth.

Toward the end of Weld’s appearance, a questioner at the back of the room called out, “Why you, Mr. Weld?”

“Well, I’ve got a boys regular haircut, to start with,” Weld said, to laughter.

The speech took place Friday, February 15 at The Bedford Village Inn in Bedford, New Hampshire, as part of the “Politics & Eggs” series sponsored by the Saint Anselm College Institute of Politics.