Bill Weld Launches Primary Challenge To Trump

Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld has officially joined the race for the 2020 Republican Presidential nomination

William Weld, who previously served as Governor of Massachusetts in the 1990s and was the Libertarian Party’s nominee for Vice-President in 2016, has become the first Republican to formally announce a challenge to President Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination:

Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld officially announced Monday that he will challenge President Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, after several months of mulling a long-shot bid that would appeal to traditional GOP voters.

Weld made the announcement in an appearance on CNN’s “The Lead With Jake Tapper,” where he described himself as “a Republican who works across the aisle and gets things done.”

“Donald Trump is not an economic conservative. He doesn’t even pretend to be. The country deserves to have some fiscal constraint and conservatism,” he said.

Weld, 73, will face a steep climb against Trump, an incumbent who is deeply popular with Republican voters. Weld last won an election in 1994 and has drifted politically in recent years, even serving as the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party in 2016. But he is now determined to offer the GOP a moderate alternative.

Weld filed official papers with Federal Election Commission on April 1, according to his campaign.

Weld’s entry comes as the Trump political team has touted the president’s standing, both financially and politically. Trump’s reelection campaign raised more than $30 million in the first three months of the year, the campaign said Monday.

“The President is in a vastly stronger position at this point than any previous incumbent president running for reelection, and only continues to build momentum,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement, unrelated to Weld’s announcement.

Still, if Weld’s campaign did somehow get traction, it could present a headache to the Trump operation, and history has demonstrated the effect of such challenges.

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A White House official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, dismissed Weld on Monday as a “relic” and someone who “is a big liberal” on climate change and drug issues. Weld has called climate change a dire threat to the nation and backed the use of medical marijuana for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Republican voters don’t want what he’s selling,” the official said. “They want to support the president.”

Weld has previously defended his decision to challenge Trump, saying in February that “Republicans in Washington want to have no election.” His team acknowledges he faces many hurdles but maintains that GOP voters deserve a choice in 2020.

“It is a long shot. But it’s certainly less of a long shot than Donald Trump was when he announced and no one thought he was serious,” Stuart Stevens, Weld’s strategist and adviser since the 1980s, said in an interview. “Tonally, he’s going to run a very different campaign. He’s not mad at the world. He’s not a victim.”

Weld has been a fierce critic of Trump’s nationalism and called it an outgrowth of movements of hate groups in Europe and elsewhere. He told the New Yorker this year that Trump uses a “dog whistle loud and clear” to win support from white supremacists and others.

Stevens, the former chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said he has left his longtime firm, Strategic Partners Media, to work for Weld. His former partner at that firm, Russ Schriefer, is an adviser to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is considering his own presidential bid against Trump.

Realistically speaking, of course, Weld stands no chance of actually winning the Republican nomination over Trump absent some truly extraordinary circumstances. As I’ve pointed out before, no primary challenge to a sitting President has been successful in the modern era, Ronald Reagan came close in his bid against Gerald Ford in 1976, and Ted Kennedy put up a strong challenge against Jimmy Carter in 1980, but neither one managed to deny an incumbent the nomination. Pat Buchanan also challenged George H.W. Bush in 1992, but at least in terms of votes didn’t really come as close as Reagan or Kennedy did. The closest example that we have is the 1968 election when Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for re-election after a disappointing, albeit still victorious, performance against Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary that year. There is no reason to believe that the outcome will be any different this year.

The unlikelihood of an intra-party challenge to Trump being successful is made even more apparent when one looks at the current state of the Republican Party. As I’ve noted many times since 2016, most especially here and here, the Republican Party is basically now Trump’s party and, outside of a handful of members of the House and Senate and some political leaders outside Washington, there is very little dissent from the President’s agenda and almost nobody speaking out when the President does or says something outrageous. Additionally, while Trump’s job approval with the general public remains historically low, his support among Republicans generally stands at 88% approve and higher. Add to this the fact that the Republican National Committee has effectively become a branch of the Trump 2020 campaign to the point where one member of committee has suggested that the party should ban primaries altogether for the 2020 election and the odds of any candidate, least of all Weld, being able to pick much momentum is fairly low.

In no small part because of this, CNN’s Grace Sparks notes that Weld has a tough road ahead of him:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld’s numbers against President Donald Trump aren’t looking good for him — or any other Republican who decides to challenge the President for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination.

Only 8% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they would definitely support Weld in a matchup against Trump and 10% said they weren’t sure but could support him, according to a March poll conducted by Monmouth University. Over half (54%) said they would definitely be supporting Trump, and 2 in 10 also reported they would probably support Trump but consider Weld as an option.

With just 8% definite and 30% possible, it’s not a good base for the former governor as he starts his official campaign.Weld’s biggest support comes from moderate and liberal Republicans and leaners, 16% of whom said they would definitely support him over Trump.

Unfortunately for Weld, only 4% of registered Republicans in Iowa, the first primary state to hold a caucus, have a favorable opinion of him, according to the March CNN/Des Moines Register/Medicom poll. Few, however, have an unfavorable opinion of him — 81% said they aren’t sure.

And in a University of New Hampshire survey of New England state, one where Weld could be expected to perform better due to its proximity to Massachusetts, only 3% of Republican primary voters said they’d support Weld over former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (17%) or Trump (68%).

All of this is consistent with what we already know about the modern Republican Party. In the past, there was arguably a far wider audience for the mix of libertarian and center-right positions that Weld takes on issues. and the contrast between his somewhat patrician New England demeanor and the bombastic ridiculousness of Donald Trump could not be more apparent. Additionally, much like his Libertarian Party running mate in 2016, Weld’s experience in government and in dealing with a recalcitrant legislature makes him far more qualified than Trump even after the President’s first four years in office.

None of that will matter to Republican voters, of course. Despite everything that has happened over the course of the past two years, or perhaps because of it, President Trump remains immensely popular within the Republican Party and, as James Joyner and myself have both noted, the GOP is basically now Donald Trump’s party. Given that, a challenge from Weld or anyone else, such as former Ohio Governor John Kasich or Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, isn’t likely to go very far. Nonetheless, Weld is a candidate that I could personally see myself supporting even if his bid is entirely quixotic.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Weld might lead Dennison to defeat in the general election, by making the GOP more Trump’s party. That is, by leading out those few Republicans more like Weld politically, thus making the GOP smaller.

    Yes, that, too, would be a long shot.

    I recall hearing about Weld in the 90s, and I hoped he’d run in 2000.

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  2. Kylopod says:

    The notion that 1976, 1980, and 1992 are the only modern examples of a sitting president getting challenged within his own party isn’t quite accurate.

    In 1972, Nixon was challenged for the nomination by two Republican Congressmen. In 1984 Reagan was challenged by former Minnesota governor and perennial candidate Harold Stassen. In 2012, in two states a challenger to Obama won more than 40% of the vote–a greater percentage than what Buchanan got in NH in 1992 in what was considered at the time a big embarrassment to Bush and which some people mistakenly remember as a Buchanan win.

    The point is that the mere existence of a challenger on the ballot doesn’t necessarily mean anything important. Trump is extremely popular within his own party–more than Obama was throughout most of the 2012 cycle, in fact. Maybe that’ll change, but we’ve been saying that for ages and the GOP just seems to get ever Trumpier.

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  3. @Kylopod:

    I was limiting my comment to serious challengers. The two Congressmen that ran against Nixon in 1972 were not serious challengers, and neither was Harold Stassen. Reagan in 76, Kennedy in 80, and Buchanan in 92 were far different from those gadfly candidates. Whether Weld, Kasich, or Hogan becomes a serious albeit unsuccessful challenger or just another gadfly remains to be seen.

  4. Teve says:

    Nothing up at One America News Network yet, or Gateway Pundit, but GP did at least amuse me:

    Official High School Records Support Claim that Democrat Ilhan Omar Married Her Brother

    Stalinist Democrat-Controlled House Committee Subpoenas Trump’s Accounting Firm Based on Michael Cohen Testimony

  5. Kathy says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    What determines the seriousness of a candidate? Time spent on campaign, resources expended, money raised, size of organizational staff, how big a deal the media make of them, how worried the incumbent gets, or something else?

    IMO, I think Weld seriously wants to take down Trump. he may be serious about winning the presidency, too. But all the willingness in the world may come to naught in the face of electoral politics. We’ll have to wait and see.

    Also, I’d bet $5 right now that Dennison will complain about the mere existence of GOP primaries when there is an incumbent, or at all.

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    With a bit of skill Weld will be able to bait Trump into wasting time attacking him.

  7. dmichael says:

    I recently heard Bill Weld speak on some newscast and I was reminded of something. He was one of the many smug, entitled blue bloods I had come across when growing up in Massachusetts. I checked his Wikipedia page and found this gem: “His ancestor Edmund Weld was among the earliest students (Class of 1650) at Harvard College. He would be followed by eighteen more Welds at Harvard, where two buildings are named for the family.” To Doug and James: I know that you consider that your politics lean to libertarianism, but really, running with the genuine nut case Johnson? Weld is running a vanity campaign.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: This is the only reason I don’t write him off completely. The smart move when a retired has-been challenges in the primary is to have the incumbent mostly ignore the challenger except for an occasional comment saying vaguely respectful things, all while serious go-betweens hint at a future position if he drops out after the first set of primaries. But Trump is not going to be able to run that script, so Weld may actually have more of an impact than the nothing burger we would normally expect.

  9. Joe says:

    @Kathy:

    Also, I’d bet $5 right now that Dennison will complain about the mere existence of GOP primaries when there is an incumbent, or at all.

    I will see your $5 and raise you $10 that Dennison will complain about the mere existence of a general election when he is the incumbent – at the very least I will buy the first round if he does not refer to them at some time as “fixed.”

  10. CSK says:

    The interesting thing about Weld is that if his campaign gains any momentum at all, it’s bound to bring out all of Trump’s deepest insecurities. Trump is the Queens-born grandson of an immigrant brothel-owner, and the son of a shady-dealing overtly racist Queens real estate dealer and a Scottish housemaid. All his life Trump has wanted to be someone like Weld: a 12th-generation (at least) Anglo-Saxon blueblood who moves effortlessly in the highest circles. Weld is comfortable in his own skin; he has nothing to prove to anyone. Trump, on the other hand, has spent his entire life trying to break into those azure realms people like Weld so effortlessly occupy.

  11. Teve says:

    @Teve: still nothing at GP about Weld, but these Gateway Pundit comments on a Rep. Omar thread are outta sight:

    grinnie jubadoobai
    6 hours ago
    You are right juba….I read a study a couple years ago that was written in the early 1900’s that stated that Muslims were so inbred, that their I.Q.’s were in the 40/50 range. If I can find the article I will try to post it. Very interesting.

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    Avatar
    sowellfan grinnie
    4 hours ago
    Pakistani Muslims in the UK are 13 times more likely to have children with genetic disorders than the general population. There are primary schools in Britain where 2/3rd of the class are related. I’m amazed they can find teachers…

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    Avatar
    BlueLivesMatter grinnie
    5 hours ago
    The average Somali is in that low IQ range and yes, the effects of inbreeding is the reason.

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    Avatar
    MAGApriest Dr. Tar
    6 hours ago
    Do the tests detect simian genes?

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  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    Ross Douthat took an enormous amount of grief a few months ago after he wrote, to the effect, that the earlier WASP elites’, noblesse oblige was socially and politically superior to today’s meritocracy. William Weld is the personification of the past WASP elite.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    @Teve: Ironic insults those are, considering the reputation of Republican strongholds like West Virginia and Kentucky…meanwhile, it probably won’t happen, but I’d love to see a debate between Weld and the wannabe from Queens…

  14. Kathy says:

    @Joe:

    at the very least I will buy the first round if he does not refer to them at some time as “fixed.”

    Sucker bet. 🙂

  15. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Trump, on the other hand, is hardly a meritocrat.

  16. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    If you think it’s easy to con all those marks, you should give it a try and find out 🙂

  17. CSK says:

    @Kathy: Well, when the marks are even dopier than you (generic you) are…..

  18. gVOR08 says:

    Saw a Weld commercial last night. Long series of clips of Trump saying mean spirited stuff, like the imitation of the reporter’s disability and fine people on both sides. If Ds go after this stuff, the Trumpers see a liberal being owned by Trump. It looks different if an R goes after it. Weld may actually be useful. O’Donnell made the point last night that every incumbent who’s had a serious primary challenge has withdrawn or lost the general. I think he has causation reversed, weak incumbents draw challengers, but a boy can wish.

  19. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08:

    O’Donnell made the point last night that every incumbent who’s had a serious primary challenge has withdrawn or lost the general. I think he has causation reversed, weak incumbents draw challengers, but a boy can wish.

    Again, this goes back to how you define a “serious primary challenge.” Every president in the modern era (1972 onward) has received one or more primary challengers. It’s just that most of those presidents (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama) were popular enough within their own party that the challengers went unnoticed. So it’s not so much that weaker presidents are likelier to draw primary challengers, it’s that they’re likelier to draw attention to challengers that are going to be there anyway, and the challengers they do get are likelier to be of higher caliber (though that can be somewhat subjective). But there’s definitely a chicken-and-egg dynamic; once a primary challenger does make a splash, it probably does hurt the president and reduce his chances of being reelected by driving down the enthusiasm of his supporters.

    What makes Trump’s case a conundrum is that there’s such an unprecedented disjuncture between his popularity among Republicans versus the general populace. I’ve looked at Gallup’s approval ratings of presidents going back to Truman, and there literally has never been a president before Trump who was this popular within his own party relative to the rest of the country. Ever. He’s got the intra-party numbers of healthy presidents but the general numbers of vulnerable ones; he’s also unique in having never been above-water in general approval up to now. What this means going forward is hard to say, because it’ll probably prevent Weld or any other challenger from making a mark, which is fortunate for him, but he also may be more vulnerable in the general election than would normally be the case for a president without a serious primary challenge.

  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    That goes without saying.

  21. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08:

    Long series of clips of Trump saying mean spirited stuff

    FWIW, I don’t think this will be effective with Repub primary voters. The fact that Trump is a mean SOB is already baked in and, if anything, is viewed positively by Repubs.

    IMO, a much more effective tack would be “good natured” ribbing about things Trump is unable to change. Pointing out the wacky way he uses his hands when he talks. The way he occasionally slurs his words. Or his “senior moments” when he says the opposite of what he said days or even minutes before. His comical claims to expertise in areas he knows nothing about. His tendency to “improve” his lie in his golf games. The important thing is not to attack him, but just make gentle jokes. Aside from driving Trump to apoplectic rages (never a good look) it will focus voters on, say, his hand gestures rather than what he is saying.