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Weld faces headwinds inside GOP — but not from voters, he says

Former Mass. governor and Libertarian vice presidential candidate speaks on quest to beat Trump

Bill Weld.
Bill Weld.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

William F. Weld is polling 60-plus points behind President Trump. The former governor is getting little love from state Republican committees, Massachusetts included. New Hampshire’s GOP party chairman wouldn’t even look at him, he said.

But the long shot primary challenger to Trump said there’s one place he’s finding willing listeners: diners, Pumpkin festivals, and classic car shows, too.

"I encounter very little Trump push-back there,” Weld told The Boston Globe editorial board Tuesday. “And when I do, it’s polite. But I remember shaking 240 hands [at one diner] — admittedly close to Dartmouth, so that’s a college town — but unanimity against Trump.”

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Such are the interactions driving Weld, who’s pitching himself as the Republican alternative to the impeached incumbent.

At the editorial board meeting, he criticized Trump as frightfully ignorant on national security issues, and framed Trump’s socializing with Russian president Vladimir Putin as “really, really stupid.” Weld said he would keep the Affordable Care Act, supports fees on carbon emissions, and would recommit the United States to the Iran nuclear deal, calling former secretary of state John Kerry’s work to broker it "masterful.”

He’s said he’d back former vice president Joe Biden in the general election against Trump — should he not upset Trump himself, of course — and that he would populate his cabinet with Democrats and Republicans. “I might even throw in a Libertarian to give everybody a tickle,” said Weld, who was the Libertarian vice presidential candidate just four years ago.

As Weld describes it, though, it’s his own party — the GOP — he’s fighting the most. Describing it as a paradox, he’s actually seeing more resistance from Republican primary voters since Trump was impeached by the House. He praised the argument that Democratic Representative Adam Schiff delivered in Trump’s impeachment trial, saying the strength of the delivery, and content, was clear to “anyone with ears to hear.”

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“Of course,” the former federal prosecutor said, "there are many people in the country who don’t have ears to hear right now.”

Or eyes to see, as Weld tells it. The twice-elected Massachusetts governor said he once tried introducing himself to New Hampshire’s Republican Party chairman, Stephen Stepanek, at a Seacoast Republican Women’s luncheon last spring, but with little luck.

“I went over — he was at a different table — and I said, ‘chairman, Bill Weld. So nice to meet you.’ He wouldn’t look at me. So that’s not a good start.” Weld said.

Stepanek denied he brushed Weld off. (“I didn’t snub him in any way. I didn’t refuse to shake his hand,” he told the Globe Tuesday.) Stepanek emphasized that he’ll remain neutral in the race until after the Feb. 11 primary, but argued with just weeks until the vote, “all I see is just phenomenal support for the president.”

A WBUR poll released in December found the same: 74 percent of likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters said they’re leaning toward casting their ballot for Trump, compared to just 9 percent supporting Weld.

“It’s a long shot,” Weld said Tuesday, noting that in his first quest for governor he also started “sub-asterisk."

“Once I get the bit in my teeth, I kind of don’t listen to people who don’t agree with the course that I’m going,” Well said, quickly adding: "When the bit is in my teeth. And it is now.”

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Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.