Original article published on The Middlebury Campus by Porter Bowman (middleburycampus.com) available here
Middlebury saw its first visit from a 2020 presidential candidate on Oct. 16. William Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts running against President Donald Trump in the Republican primary, spoke to a crowd of around 40 students in Dana Auditorium in a talk hosted by the Middlebury College Republicans.
Weld previously ran as former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election on the Libertarian Party ticket, which garnered nearly 4.5 million votes nationwide. Weld also served two terms as governor of Massachusetts between 1991 and 1997.
Brendan Philbin ’21, the co-chair of the College Republicans, met Governor Weld last spring after a campaign event in White River Junction, Vt.
“He offered to give a speech before I could even bring it up,” Philbin said. “I was put in touch with his chief of staff and then worked to plan the event for the next five months.”
Philbin said that he kept running into legal troubles, because any official campaign event hosted at the college would violate the college’s 501c3 nonprofit status. As such, Weld appeared in his capacity as a former governor and longtime political figure rather than as a presidential candidate.
Weld spoke about his political background and policy views, and spent most of the event engaging in a question and answer session with students. Weld also held a pizza social event in the Robert A. Jones ’59 Conference Room after his talk, where discussion continued.
“We know that the Middlebury community is very civically engaged and interested in politics, so we thought that this event with Governor Weld would give students, faculty and staff an opportunity to engage directly with a prominent politician at both the state and federal level,” Philbin said. “This is why I think the pizza social that followed the event was so valuable. It gave us a chance to speak candidly about politics with someone who’s been involved in it for decades.”
Weld spoke openly about his dismay with the Republican Party under President Donald Trump and his hopes for the future of the party, both in terms of policy and politics. Speaking about impeachment and loyalty to the President, Weld was particularly critical of many Republican members of Congress.“
“Loyalty is too often used as an excuse for doing the wrong thing.”
— Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld
“Loyalty is too often used as an excuse for doing the wrong thing,” Weld told students.
Weld pointed to his time as governor of Massachusetts as an example of executive leadership. He described his budgeting strategies that helped the state out of a recession, his support of reforming but not repealing the Affordable Care Act and efforts to find ways to lower drug prices. He also stressed the importance of having a diverse political makeup of past and future administrations.
According to students in attendance, the extended Q&A portion of the event was particularly compelling.
“I definitely enjoyed hearing from an unconventional Republican candidate, and particularly found his bottom-up budgeting approach interesting,” Samuel Sullivan ’22.5 said.
Philbin said that students asked tough questions during the event, prompting good discussion.
“As I had warned Governor Weld would happen, the students did not go up to ask him softball questions,” Philbin said. “I was impressed, though not surprised, at how specific and interesting the questions that students asked were. They gave a great opportunity to really go in-depth into a presidential candidate’s political platform.”
Justin Cooper ’22 appreciated the opportunity to engage with the views of a moderate conservative.
“I thought Governor Weld gave very interesting insight into what a more moderate Republican’s political views might be, and it was very refreshing to hear a more level-headed conservative give alternative, in-depth policy ideas to Trump’s,” Cooper said. “That being said, during the Q&A, he did jump around quite a few of the questions, managing to fully evade giving a clear answer.”
Alex Demoly ’22 also thought some of Weld’s answers were evasive, but found him to be open and worth engaging with at the same time.
“My lasting impression of Governor Weld is that he is a very approachable man,” Demoly said. “Not one completely devoid of the talking points and rhetorical firmness necessary for a politician, but certainly one with whom you can have a comfortable chat, a slice of pizza in one hand and a Coke in the other.”
Philbin found the event to be a successful show of discourse and dialogue amongst members of the Middlebury community from all political stripes.
“I think it was important to show the Middlebury community, the overwhelming majority of which are of the political left, that Republicans are not all climate-denying corporatists unconcerned with issues like wealth inequality and minority rights,” Philbin said. “It can often feel like there is no common ground between members of our two dominant political parties but, once you’re able to have an in-depth conversation with them, it becomes clear that we often agree on more than we disagree.”