Weld says Libertarians appeal to Sanders fans, anti-Trump Republicans
William F. Weld, the former Republican governor turned Libertarian candidate for vice president, said Tuesday that he believes his party’s long-shot campaign for the White House can appeal to Republicans unhappy with Donald Trump and to young supporters of Bernie Sanders.
“We’ve got a lot of room to grow,” Weld said at a discussion at Mintz Levin, the high-powered Boston law firm. “We’re going to start as a little acorn.”
Weld, who is running on the Libertarian ticket with Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, asserted that more than half of American voters share his new party’s values, which he described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal.
“No one speaks for those voters at the debates unless it is we,” Weld said.
Still, Weld had warmer words for Hillary Clinton than for Trump, whom he blasted as dangerous and misguided.
He noted that he and Clinton have known each other since the 1970s, when they were young lawyers working for the House committee that investigated the impeachment of President Nixon.
“I actually shared an office with her, which is why I know she doesn’t like dead mice,” he said.
He called Clinton a “kind person” who is “qualified to be president” and said Bill Clinton was his “favorite co-governor from the ’90s.”
But he said that, given the Democrats’ shift to the left in recent years, “I’m not sure she would be a middle-of-the-road president.”
Weld was more sharply critical of Trump, particularly his plans to deport 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States and to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
“We’re going to have a Mexican Ronald Reagan saying, ‘Mr. Trump, tear down this wall,’ ” Weld said, adding that on both issues, Trump is “on the wrong side of history.”
Weld was interviewed by Bruce Mohl, editor of Commonwealth Magazine, in Mintz Levin’s 38th-floor offices, for a small crowd of lobbyists, lawyers, and foundation leaders.
Weld is a lobbyist for ML Strategies, Mintz Levin’s government relations arm. Now on unpaid leave, his clients include eBay, General Electric, and Steve Wynn, the gambling magnate who is building a casino in Everett.
As the Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, Weld was known for cutting taxes and backing abortion rights and gay rights.
He also pushed through legislation that forced more welfare recipients to work, signed a landmark education bill that increased funding for schools in exchange for imposing higher standards, and supported a ban on assault weapons.
But he was politically restless.
In 1996, just two years after he was reelected with 71 percent of the vote, he tried unsuccessfully to oust John F. Kerry from the Senate.
A year later, he resigned in a bid to become ambassador to Mexico. Republican Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blocked his nomination.
After a working as a lawyer and investor in Manhattan, he launched a long-shot campaign to become governor of New York in 2005.
Three years after that campaign collapsed, he spurned the GOP and endorsed Barack Obama for president, only to reverse course again four years later and endorse Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.
Weld acknowledged that his latest campaign as a Libertarian was put together hastily. He said he was picked to be vice president in a single day after he and his wife, Leslie Marshall, flew to Las Vegas and met Johnson at Harrah’s hotel and casino.
“We spent four hours talking it through,” Weld said, and then decided to run together.
Weld said he has his differences with the Libertarian Party. For example, he said, he backs a flat tax, not the abolition of the income tax, and wants the US to stay in the United Nations.
After hedging initially, he also said he would back a state ballot question this fall legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
He said that his primary focus is on fundraising and generating media attention, in hopes of garnering the 15 percent support needed to qualify for the fall debates. As such, he declined to bash the press.
“I open the newspapers with great pleasure every morning,” he said.
He said his protégé, Governor Charlie Baker, was “very smart” to declare last month that he would not vote for anyone for president. Weld said that would allow Baker to avoid getting dragged into divisive national issues.
But a moment later, Weld made clear that he still hopes Baker will change his mind and support the Johnson-Weld ticket in November.
“I’ll bet he thinks of someone to vote for,” Weld said with a coy smile.