Original article published on Council on Foreign Relations by James M. Lindsay (cfr.org) available here
Bill Weld was the first Republican to officially announce he would challenge Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Weld knows that his bid faces long odds. Roughly nine out of ten likely Republican voters approve of the job Trump is doing. So why is Weld running? He has said that “the presidency is an office I’ve had my eye on for 20 years, so there’s no time like the present.” But his deeper reason is to spoil Trump’s re-election chances. “I think the country is kind of at a tipping point and unless people stand up and are counted, and plant a flag and say what the president is doing is unconscionable, we’re headed down the wrong path,” he told one reporter. “My aim is to win the New Hampshire primary, and if that happens, I think all bets are off.” If Weld’s long-shot campaign succeeds, he would be the first Massachusetts governor ever to become president—and a few have tried.
Name: William (Bill) Floyd Weld
Elections and Voting
Date of Birth:July 31, 2020
Place of Birth:Smithtown, New York
Political Party:Republican Party (Libertarian Party, 2016-19)
Marital Status:Married (Leslie Marshall)
Children: David Minot, Ethel Derby, Mary Blake, Quentin Roosevelt, and Frances Wylie
Alma Mater:Harvard College (B.A.), University College at Oxford, Harvard Law School (J.D.)
Career:United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts (1981-1986); United States Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division (1986-1988); Governor of Massachusetts (1991-1997); Chief Executive of Decker College in Louisville, Kentucky (2005)
Campaign Website: https://www.weld2020.org/
Twitter Handle: @GovBillWeld
Weld was born and raised in Smithtown, New York, a small town on the north shore of Long Island. His family traces its history back to America’s early days. His ancestor Edmund Weld graduated from Harvard College in 1650. Another of this ancestors, William Floyd, signed of the Declaration of Independence. Weld attended Harvard College, graduating in 1966 with a degree in classics. He studied at Oxford before getting his law degree from Harvard in 1970.
Weld has a long record of public service. He was a counsel on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during Watergate. Ronald Reagan appointed him U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts in 1981. Five years later, Reagan named him assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division at the Justice Department.
Weld ran for governor of Massachusetts in 1990. He won 50 percent of the vote in a traditionally blue state. In becoming the state’s first Republican governor in more than a dozen years, he ran as a socially liberal, fiscally conservative candidate. He governed as he campaigned and the voters liked it—he won re-election in 1994 with 71 percent of the vote. But he wasn’t content to stay in the Massachusetts State House. Two years later he ran for the U.S. Senate against John Kerry, losing by seven percentage points. Six months later a new opportunity came Weld’s way—President Bill Clinton nominated him to be the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. His nomination, however, ran into an obstacle in the form of Jesse Helms, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman. Helms cut his fellow Republican no slack. He objected to Weld’s liberal stances on social issues and refused to hold a hearing on his nomination. Recognizing the inevitable, Weld withdrew from consideration.
With his career in public office seemingly over, Weld worked a variety of legal and financial jobs. He even did a stint as the chief executive of Decker College, a for-profit school in Louisville, Kentucky. He briefly re-entered the political ring in 2005 by seeking the Republican nomination for governor of New York. He ended the campaign after his long-shot bid garnered little support.
In 2016, Weld left the Republican Party to run as the vice-presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party. He received a lot of attention during the race for seemingly supporting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
Weld announced last February that he had re-joined the Republican Party.
Weld announced his candidacy on CNN’s “The Lead With Jake Tapper.” He explained that he is challenging Trump because re-electing the president would be a “political tragedy.”
Weld also touted how he had worked across party lines and cut spending as a fiscally conservative governor. He added that if he didn’t win the Republican nomination, he wouldn’t support Trump’s re-election.
Weld’s main message is that Trump should not be re-elected. Weld is positioning himself as a traditional Republican who blends fiscal conservativism with social liberalism.
Weld’s Foreign Policy Views
Weld’s approach to foreign policy can be described as traditional Republican internationalism. He believes in U.S. global leadership and sees allies, partners, and friends as force multipliers for American power and value. So not surprisingly, Weld dislikes Trump’s America First foreign policy:
The president is undercutting our national security and strategic position with those twin moves of cozying up to dictators and really insulting our military allies, and that’s true both in Europe and in and in Asia.
On some specifics, though, Weld doesn’t look that different from Trump. Weld wants to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan immediately, saying, “I don’t understand why our troops are in Afghanistan. I don’t think they should be there and that may be true for other places as well.” He has also criticized the Iraq War and the U.S. decision to maintain a sizable military presence in the Middle East.
Weld thinks Trump was wrong to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. Because Tehran was complying with the deal, he says leaving it means “we sacrificed 10 years during which Iran was obligated not to advance its nuclear weapons program.” Weld says he would rejoin the deal as it was originally written.
Weld thinks that a “partial dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is a development worth promoting.” Weld has criticized Trump for suggesting that South Korea and Japan should have access to nuclear weapons, calling the notion “crazy in a world where nuclear proliferation is the number-one threat to the security of the world.”
Some of Weld’s sharpest criticisms of Trump come on trade. Weld has long argued that Trump’s resort to tariffs “violates our obligations under treaties and international agreements like the World Trade Organization.” Weld says that “ripping up NAFTA” and leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were huge mistakes. He thinks that the United States should rejoin TPP as a way to curtail Chinese power. He has condemned Trump’s trade war with China, arguing that it’s Americans and not the Chinese who are paying for it:
It’s paid for by American farmers or American businesses or individuals who need to import something from China that contains steel or aluminum, and everyone knows it.
Weld says that while the United States “can and must do business with China,” it must also stand up against China’s human rights abuses and stand by its allies in the region.
Weld believes that climate change is a threat and he would have the United States rejoin the Paris Agreement. He favors implementing a carbon tax to curb the emission of heat-trapping gases because the thinks that letting “the market decide about carbon” is a “much more powerful engine than just saying I’m going to spend $10 trillion dollars to promote clean energy.” Weld also says that the United States should help developing countries gain access to cleaner natural gas, as well as “renewable energy development and civilian nuclear power plants.”
More on Weld
Business Insider has broken down where Weld stands on foreign policy and a range of other issues.
Weld sat down with Vox to explain why he is a “real Republican” and Trump is a Republican in name only.
Weld told WBUR that two priorities would dominate his first one hundred days in office: cutting spending, because “Congress and the president together are spending us towards bankruptcy,” and rebuilding relations with close U.S. allies.
The New Yorker interviewed Weld back in March and he said that he was “confident of doing well” in New Hampshire” and that “all the New England states could be in play, the mid-Atlantic states, certainly, California, Oregon, Washington, the states in the West, the intermountain west.”
The New York Times interviewed Weld back in April and he likened Trump to Brutus in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” saying: “Donald Trump wants to be a king.”
Politico Magazine asked Weld back in May whether he was the best candidate to face Trump, and he responded: “I don’t know that I am the best, I think I’m adequate to the task.”
The Washington Post Magazine profiled Weld in August, asking “Is Bill Weld the Hero Never Trumpers Have Been Waiting For?”
Business Insider sponsored a Republican presidential primary debate last month in which Weld and fellow Republican challenger Joe Walsh both called Trump unfit to be president. Weld insisted that “most Republicans up on Capitol Hill they feel in private exactly what we say publicly.”
Weld answered eleven questions from the New York Times on executive power. In response to a question about the limits of any presidential war power, he answered, “This power has been inappropriately compromised and eroded over a number of successive Presidential administrations and various Congresses in the hands of each of the major parties. The O.L.C.’s reasoning is simply a recent manifestation. The Office of Legal Counsel’s contra-Constitutional reasoning and its conclusions are incorrect.”
CFR asked Weld twelve foreign policy questions. When asked to name America’s greatest foreign policy accomplishment since World War II, he said it “was the peaceful and successful end of the Cold War.” He said that biggest mistake the United States has made since World War II “was to behave as if other countries do not matter. As a result, we have wasted the opportunity to build a really inclusive, stable peace.”
Margaret Gach, Elizabeth Lordi, and Anna Shortridge assisted in the preparation of this post.