Bill Weld’s political wanderlust may strike again
Bill Weld is giving strong consideration to a run for president in 2020, which is about as terrible an idea as it is predictable.
As the latest move in the long, strange trip that his political career has become, Weld is pondering whether to run for the White House as a Libertarian or a Republican. Not that either party is clamoring to draft him as a candidate.
Weld was a Republican when he served as governor from 1991 to 1997, but whether he remains one is unclear. This much seems obvious: when our former governor feels a need for a shot of attention and adulation, he finds something to run for.
We’ve seen a snippet of this movie before. In 2016, Weld was the vice-presidential candidate of the Libertarians, as the running mate of former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. They flamed out, but apparently not badly enough to slake Weld’s political wanderlust.
He also launched an ill-advised run for governor of New York in 2006, dreaming of joining Sam Houston as a governor of two different states. New Yorkers didn’t grasp his quirky charms, and he lost badly in a Republican primary.
Though this is easily forgotten now, Weld once seemed like the rare politician capable of gracefully leaving the spotlight. After departing Beacon Hill in 1997, he wrote a few not-terrible novels, went to work for a private equity firm, practiced law. He appeared content to lead a normal, albeit lucrative life. But the lure of the spotlight is strong, and he is expected to reveal more of his plans at a speech in New Hampshire Feb. 15. Weld’s comeback attempts may soon outnumber his victories.
In one sense, perhaps, Weld’s nascent candidacy isn’t really surprising. But it seems telling that he can’t even seem to settle on a party. Beyond a bedrock aversion to taxes and a willingness to embrace almost anything that made him look tough on crime, Weld’s political philosophy was always a bit malleable. But even the basic outlines of his political identity now seem to be up for grabs.
Then again, as a presidential candidate he may not have any great options. In a Republican primary against President Trump, it’s hard to see how Weld would be anything other than roadkill, little more than a conscientious objector. (Just imagine the tweets.) Even if there is room for a primary challenge to Trump. it isn’t likely to come from someone as moderate as Weld, who endorsed Barack Obama and repeatedly defended Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Libertarians view him with skepticism. For some strange reason, they’ve never quite bought Weld as a committed Libertarian. So there’s that.
Weld actually has a day job, as an attorney/lobbyist at the powerhouse firm of ML Strategies. Stephen Tocco, a former Weld cabinet secretary who is chair of ML Strategies, told the Globe recently that Weld has not taken a leave of absence or made a firm decision about running.
Weld has never based decisions on his chances of winning. He was destroyed in his first race, running for attorney general against Frank Bellotti in 1978. His win in the 1990 governor’s race was a major upset. He has always done what he wanted, regardless of his chances. Running a race he can’t win isn’t out of character.
But what would Weld bring to this presidential race? He despises Trump, but the Republican base doesn’t care what he thinks. As a Libertarian, he would command even less attention.
The debate on Weld’s legacy in Massachusetts can wait for another day. Suffice it to say, he was a popular governor who engineered a sea change in the state’s politics. The series of Republican governors who have followed is testament to his influence.
But Weld’s success came at a specific moment in the state’s politics, which is why he has never been able to duplicate it. A Weld presidential campaign wouldn’t be a fun lark, like the time he jumped into the Charles River. It promises instead to be a tired sequel, released long after the curtain should have come down.