Does Bill Weld really think he can beat Donald Trump?
The 73-year-old former Massachusetts governor is currently raising money for his long-shot quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
Do most voters even know who Weld is? Do they care?
In the 1990s, Weld was a popular and well-respected Republican governor — but that was a quarter-century ago. Today, even in New England, younger voters have no memory of his tenure on Beacon Hill. Many of those who do know him recall only his lackluster 2016 third-party vice presidential candidacy on the Libertarian ticket. That election cycle, Weld promised voters he would be a “Libertarian for life.” What he didn’t tell us was that he has nine of them — political lives, that is.
When he tired of his first life, as a Republican governor, he quit to become a Democratic president’s ambassador to Mexico — a bid that failed when he deliberately antagonized the Chairman of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms.
Next, the partying, Aerosmith-loving, former Massachusetts pol moved to New York to work in the private sector. Because one governorship wasn’t enough for Weld, he launched an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for governor of the Empire State.
In 2008, while still claiming to be a Republican, Weld endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president over GOP nominee John McCain. Not Donald Trump, mind you, but John McCain. (Heck, even Connecticut’s former Democratic senator, Joe Lieberman, endorsed McCain that year.)
Desperate to be back in the limelight, Weld joined the Libertarian ticket in 2016, yet spent more time praising Hillary Clinton than Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate and his putative boss.
Today, he is running for president and once again calling himself a Republican (and a resident of Massachusetts).
What could possibly make Weld think there is a significant political constituency for his candidacy?
To be sure, Trump won the 2016 GOP nomination in a crowded and fractured field with a mere plurality of Republican support. In a smaller field, can the socially liberal Weld garner the support of establishment Republicans who voted for John Kasich, Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio?
Not a chance.
Since taking office, President Trump’s approval rating among registered Republicans has consistently hovered between 87 and 91 percent. Today, even those Republicans who preferred another GOP candidate in 2016 — and who wrote in their own personal favorite, rather than choose between the lesser of two evils — concede that the president’s federal appointments and many of his policies look an awful lot like standard Republican fare.
And when they cast their ballots in a Republican primary, even those who find Trump offensive will vote to keep control of the federal bureaucracy and judicial appointments rather than take a chance on an outlier who cannot win.
Surely a man as smart as Weld knows that he has no path to the nomination. But perhaps he is hoping his primary challenge will weaken the president enough to cost him the general election. After all, incumbent presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush all lost reelection after facing strong primary challenges (from Ronald Reagan, Ted Kennedy, and Pat Buchanan, respectively).
Maybe Weld is just delusional enough to believe he can be the person to bring Trump down. More likely, this is all just another Weldian ego ride — another quest to influence the debate and to remain politically relevant before his nine lives run out.
But relevant to whom? MAGA Republicans have no interest in Weld. Neither do conservative establishment types. Weld will neither impact the dialogue among Republican voters nor influence the outcome of the election. And, indeed, with more than 20 Democrats already running against the president, is there room for one more liberal critic?
Perhaps Weld’s latest lark is just a way to secure his place on the progressive celebrity cocktail circuit — at least for another year or two. Before opening their wallets, potential donors should consider whether supporting Weld’s quest for attention is worth their hard-earned money.