Rep Bill Weld

Bill Weld positions his GOP presidential run as a moderate alternative to Trump

By Shirin Ali
Medill Reports

Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld, former Massachusetts governor, discussed his run for the presidency at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.

His free-wheeling talk Jan. 27 covered the uphill battle campaigning against an incumbent, his support for impeachment and the bleak future he sees for the Republican Party.

“I would not be doing this if it was 2017 and the president had just been elected. We didn’t know enough then about how he was going to conduct himself in office. I felt, as time wore on, certainly by the beginning of 2019, that we were in extraordinarily dangerous times that I hoped I would never see in the U.S.,” Weld said.

He is one of two Republicans challenging Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary. Former Illinois congressman and conservative talk show host Joe Walsh is the other contender. A  recent poll from The Economist and YouGov showed Weld polling nationally at 2%, with Walsh at 3% and Trump coming in at 89%.

Weld, 73, is a former federal prosecutor is an alum of Harvard Law School and Oxford University.  He served as the governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Criminal Division from1986 to 1988 and Massachusetts attorney general from 1981 to 1986.

Weld said he believes there are a substantial number of Republican voters who dislike Trump and are looking for a more moderate Republican option. Weld believes he can fulfill that need, a supporter of abortion rights, a fiscal conservative and an advocate of climate change.

Since the inception of Weld’s political career, he has flirted between the Republican and Libertarian parties. In 1990, he was the first Republican to win the Massachusetts governorship in 20 years. Later in 2006, Weld attempted to run for president but withdrew from the primary after the party endorsed John Faso. He instead ran as a Libertarian and received 2% of the vote in the general election. Most recently, Weld ran on the Libertarian ticket as vice president with Gary Johnson as the presidential candidate in 2016.

Rob Wildeboer, senior news editor of Chicago’s local NPR station WBEZ, interviewed Weld with a modest audience of about 100 Chicago supporters at the event. The event was hosted at Ida Noyes Hall on the university’s Hyde Park campus.

Weld was forthright about his initial support of President Donald Trump during the 2016 elections, describing his performance during many of the debates as “refreshing” and “compelling.” However, by early 2019 he described Trump’s presidency as going from bad to worse.

Trump’s anti-press rhetoric, the series of “dog whistles” against Muslims and Mexicans and his dismantling of U.S. foreign policy were just some of many issues on which Weld said he disagrees with the president.

“I would not be running against Mr. Trump if it were just that he’s overspending by a trillion dollars a year, he’s trashing our allies on the foreign policy front and he has no understanding of the fact that nuclear proliferation has to be taboo. I’m running against Mr. Trump because I think I could do the job,” Weld said.

As for the impeachment trial of Trump in the U.S. Senate, Weld vehemently criticized Republican senators who are not willing to hear new witnesses.

“It has never happened that the senate has said we don’t want to hear anything, see anything speak anything, so this is breaking new very, bad ground,” Weld said.

When asked about the uphill battle of campaigning against an incumbent, Weld remained positive. If he can win New Hampshire by a narrow margin, above an expected 2%, Weld said he believes he has a chance to remain on the ballot.

Weld admitted he isn’t a fan of the Republican Party or of party loyalty.

“Particularly in Washington, loyalty is used an excuse for doing the wrong thing,” Weld said, while voicing his support of gay rights and reproductive rights, “Of the three-party platforms, probably Libertarian is the closest choice for me. I don’t have to wear the socially conservative policies in the Republican Party.”

Alexandra Patzakias, an Institute of Politics intern, helped organize Monday night’s event hosting Weld.

“I admire him. He’s in a hard position considering he’s not getting much traction right now in the Republican race. But, there are some democratic candidates I support who I feel like have a better shot than he does. If he was polling really well, I would consider him,” Patzakias said.

Adam Balling, chair of Libertarian Party of Chicago, is a passionate supporter of Weld and hopes he will someday return to the Libertarian Party. Balling said he generally liked most of what he heard from Weld but acknowledged his campaigning may not connect with voters.

“Weld is brilliant, but sometimes his phrasing is a little more skewered. It maybe isn’t as easily effective at mobilizing people, which is unfortunate,” Balling said.

Julie Allen, a resident of Hyde Park, wasn’t initially following Weld’s campaign but attended Monday night’s event and spoke positively of her impression of him. “I thought he was socially liberal, fiscally conservative and speaks the truth,” Allen said.

Allen said she felt Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg has the most similar viewpoints to those of Weld, who didn’t make it as a candidate on Illinois’s primary ballot.

“I think Pete Buttigieg is as smart as is Bill Weld. Bill Weld seems very smart. They speak very well, very clearly. I don’t know if the American population has the patience for that kind of intelligence,”  Allen said.

Photo at top: (L to R) Rob Wildeboer, senior news editor of Chicago radio station WBEZ, in conversation with Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld during University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics’ speaker series event on January 27. (Shirin Ali/MEDILL)