While twenty or so Democrats race to challenge Donald Trump in 2020, no one from his own party is stepping up to run. No one, that is, except Bill Weld.
Announcing his candidacy on CNN April 15, Weld pitched himself as a someone, “who works across the aisle and gets things done.” He is running on the belief that enough Republicans are against Trump that they will support him. To win next February, when the Iowa caucus kicks off the election year, Weld needs to be perfect in crafting his image to voters. But what will that image be?
At 73, he is a year older than Trump, but younger than Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunners. Both are finding their age to be more than just a number and a hurdle that they have to clear with Democrats who find them out of touch with modern issues. However, age may matter less with to the Republican voters Weld needs to win in the primaries next year. His bigger problem is his small national image.
Weld has already been on a national ballot. In 2016, he was Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s running mate. They, of course, lost that year.
Like Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, Weld studied at Harvard and Oxford, although he graduated from Harvard Law School before Buttigieg was born. Weld worked as a staff member in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. He was a counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate until becoming the United States Attorney for Massachusetts.
His largest job to date was as the Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991 until 1997. Prior to that, he worked in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration as the Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division.
One question Weld’s run could answer is if voters are still not appealed to candidates with real experience governing. Part of Trump’s 2016 appeal was his total lack of experience in Washington D.C. or any government. Regardless of whether or not he was a successful CEO, Trump’s background did little to teach him about being president.
With his decades of experience, Weld is casting himself as the anti-Trump candidate. While giving Republican and, he hopes, Independent voters a different type of Republican to support, his run will be tricky. There is a fine line he has to walk that Democratic candidates do not have to worry about. Weld needs to identify himself as the opposite of Trump while not compromising his conservative values.
Speaking to The New York Times last month, Weld compared his campaign to his role as Brutus in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”
“Donald Trump wants to be a king,” he said after reflecting on his high school role, as well as his study of the Federalist Papers. The primary goal of those who wrote the Constitution 230 years ago, he added, was to prevent a future where America would once again have a king.
Weld’s biggest argument is that character still matters in politics. Calling Trump petty, vindictive and just plain mean, he hopes to show that there is still a difference between Trumpism and conservatism.
“Trumpism is frankly devotion to Mr. Trump’s megalomania,” Weld told The New York Times. Despite running as as a Republican, the president’s main concern has always been, and always will be, himself.
He is hoping to appeal to Trump voters by showing them that Trump is failing his base. An economic conservative, he noted that no one is talking about the massive loss of jobs that will come with advances in self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence. This is a group of voters that, in his eyes, are being ignored by the president. For Weld to succeed, he will need to show voters Trump’s inconsistent support because there is no way he can win on devout anti-Trump Republican votes alone.
While he appears to be appealing to older, less extreme Republicans, Weld does support abortion and gay rights. While Trump dismisses climate change’s overarching danger, Weld wants to start a national conversation about it. While not traditional conservative platforms, Weld’s less extreme views do go against many of the changes Trump has helped implement in the country.
Will Anyone Else Join Weld?
The lack of Republicans challenging Donald Trump is alarming. Granted, an incumbent president usually does not face challengers from his own party. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama ran unopposed during their incumbency primaries. In fact, that previous two times an incumbent Republican president ran for reelection, the Iowa Republican Party did not hold a caucus to nominate a presidential candidate. This year, however, they changed their mind.
It is difficult to believe that every Republican in the United States completely supports a second Trump term. Maybe they do not want a failed presidential run on their resume or they are fine having an unpredictable, childish billionaire as the face of their party, so long as he pushes a conservative agenda. Perhaps voters appear so singularly devoted to Trump that others are hesitant to try and overthrow him.
It is not clear yet if any 2016 opponents, including Jeb Bush or John Kasich, will run in 2020. Former Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a vocal opponent of Trump, has said he will not seek the nomination. While noting that, “it is a difficult path,” to the nomination, Flake told CBS in January that he hoped someone in his party would run.
Weld’s chances of success are slim. In polls, Trump maintains a strong lead. Weld needs to fundraise better and faster than anyone else. His candidacy is a long-shot, but then again, there are still eight months until Iowa.