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Committed Republicans tired of Trump’s swings do have other choices this year

Original article published on The Des Moines Register by Rekha Basu ( available here

Former Gov. and 2020 Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld (R-MA) meets with the Register’s editorial board on Jan. 8, 2020. Weld served as the governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997.

As the candidate tells it, he was one of about a dozen seeking the presidency to address the NAACP convention in Detroit after Donald Trump had suggested some House Democratic women of color who criticized him go back to where they came from.

But while the other candidates, in this one’s words, “danced around it,” he brought the house down by declaring: “The president is an outrageous racist and every Republican in Washington has a decision to make. It is not a political decision. It’s a moral decision.”

If you’re trying to guess who that was, you’re probably wrong.

It was 74-year-old white, male Republican William Weld, a former U.S. attorney who served as governor of Massachusetts in the ’90s. He’s challenging Trump in the Republican primary. (Yes, there will be those too this year!)

Whatever you might think of Weld’s approach to issues, hearing him tell that story Wednesday in a meeting with Register reporters and editors almost made me cry. That’s because almost no Republican in Congress, including Iowa’s own delegation (Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, and Rep. Steve King) has publicly condemned anything this erratic president, who seems to make his own rules up as he goes along, has done.

Even Iowa’s Republican governor, who should have no dog in the race, has joined them in marching along in lockstep through his dealings with Ukraine, which led to his impeachment in the House. But no Republican senator seems inclined to vote against him when it reaches the Senate.

Through all this — the caging of migrant children, the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the insistence on ramming through his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court despite the rape evidence against him — the GOP establishment has rolled over. And that has helped create a partisan divide so deep that, most days, it feels we’re all at war with each other.

But then, in walks a Republican presidential candidate who holds up Bob Ray, Iowa’s beloved former governor, as a model. Ray was a humanitarian, one of those “moderate” Republicans, now nearly extinct, who listened to all sides and negotiated. And even though Weld was polling at 2% or 3% to Trump’s 86% last time I checked (and there’s a third candidate in the race); even though I disagree with him on issues like gun licensing (he doesn’t support it and would use “red flag laws” to prevent mass shootings) and school choice (he favors it), his appeals to honesty and reason were a reminder of how things could be. Civil. Bipartisan. Thoughtful.

Weld calls himself an economic conservative who believes, “There’s no such thing as the government’s money. There’s only taxpayers’ money.” He lauds decency, diplomacy, and listening. He thinks both parties have moved to extremes. But he says that if congressional Republicans ignore the evidence of Trump “having solicited foreign interference in our affairs — indeed, extorted and sought to corrupt his office by putting his own interests above the United States of America,” the party is unlikely to survive. He’d expect “a slaughter of Republicans” at the polls in 2020.

“I’m so dismayed to see the president thumb his nose at the rule of law,”  said Weld, arguing that other countries have wanted to do business with the U.S. because of the rule of law here.

There are issues on which he agrees with the current president. He wasn’t sorry about the Soleimani assassination, calling him a “terror master”  and contending the killing was defensible under international law. But he would have consulted with Congress. He considers Trump “like a child in international affairs. He doesn’t understand nuclear proliferation is a taboo. He thinks the more, the merrier.”

On other issues, Weld depicts his politics as “on the Libertarian side.” (He ran for vice president in 2016 on the Libertarian ticket with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson). He thought Kavanaugh would have been a good choice to be a justice — until Christine Blasey Ford’s compelling testimony against him. He thought Kavanaugh’s demeanor while testifying was damning.

He’s worried about income inequality and open to “tweaking the tax code.” He supports the Earned Income Tax Credit, and would raise the Social Security tax on high-income earners and impose a means test to collect Social Security. But he says no federal agency would be spared cuts in bis budget. He believes climate change is real and caused by humans. He’d allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, and Americans to buy their medicines from Canada, where they’re cheaper. 

Weld is also that rare Republican office-seeker who supports a woman’s right to choose, and says it’s very unlikely he’d appoint someone to the Supreme Court who wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

That could cost him with the evangelical wing who vote Republican primarily for that issue.

He has a monumental job ahead winning GOP voters over from Trump. Ironically, being a Harvard and Oxford graduate who speaks with erudition might not serve him in this anti-intellectual, tweet-heavy climate.

But maybe, privately, there are at least some Republicans who’ve had enough, and would welcome another choice. Here’s hoping they turn out to caucus.

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