Is there anything left of the Republican Party Bill Weld once belonged to? Any lingering belief in the rule of law, the efficiency of markets, fiscal discipline, or the need for honesty and integrity in high elected officials?
Bless our former governor for trying to find out. Weld is making a primary run against President Trump. So far, he’s the only Republican with the guts to do so, and he’s not mincing words.
“We cannot sit passively as our precious democracy slips quietly into darkness,” he said in Bedford, N.H., recently.
The thing is, just about every Republican in Washington is sitting passively, shrugging at Trump’s daily desecrations of his office, barely batting an eye at the notion that the president might have obstructed justice, or could be the asset of a hostile foreign government. They just lie down and let him walk all over them — and trample our moral norms as a nation.
“I compare it to Stockholm syndrome,” Weld said in an interview on Friday, adding this epic understatement: “I don’t think I’ll convert everybody in Washington.”
The (alarmingly few) Republican Trump critics who hold office, or want to, choose their words more carefully, lest they alienate the (alarmingly many) voters who maintain a cult-like devotion to their Dear Leader. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, another former Massachusetts governor, has been wildly inconsistent about speaking up. And don’t get me started on Maine Senator Susan Collins, whose vacant Hamlet routine got old long ago. Ohio’s John Kasich and Maryland’s Larry Hogan, both considered possible primary challengers, appear willing to go near the race only if Trump’s Republican support collapses, which it probably won’t, since nothing the president says or does upsets his base.
Weld is not careful, and never has been — a function, perhaps, of being so patrician that he never seemed to need a job at all.
And Lord, do we need not-careful now.
His critics say Weld is too flighty to be credible here, and it is fair to say he hasn’t been relevant politically for 20 years. “Even Benedict Arnold switched allegiances less often!” Trumpkin Jim Lyons, the chairman of the Massachusetts GOP, told the Globe’s Michael Levenson.
Weld has flitted around: He endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president in 2008, ran on the Libertarian ticket in 2016, spoke highly of Hillary Clinton near the end of that race, and is now back in the GOP. But ideologically — and on Trump — Weld has been consistent.
“As I said in 1992, I want the government out of your pocketbook and out of your bedroom,” Weld said. “It has an antiquated ring to it, but it shouldn’t.”
Does it ever. Many of the things Weld believes are tantamount to heresy in Trump’s GOP, which is not so much a big tent these days as a shred of tattered canvas: Weld supports abortion rights, sees climate change as the emergency it is, abhors nativism, and wants to make it easier for immigrants to work here. Voters turned off by those views will find many more where they came from.
But Weld seems to reckon he can get around the red hat brigade. He’s banking for support on independent voters, who can cast Republican primary ballots in 20 states. He might make inroads in New Hampshire. A recent UMass Amherst poll found that 40 percent of likely Republican voters there believe Trump should be challenged in the 2020 primary, with support for a contest higher among college-educated and younger voters, and women.
But Weld must convince them he’s for real here, and not just making a statement.
“There’s no reason to run except to win,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t sound vainglorious, but I could start on Monday in that job.”
The knock on Weld is that he is vainglorious, that ego is driving him here. Maybe. But the fact remains that, right now, there is only one person willing to take on Trump, and to stand up against the disaster today’s Republican Party has wrought.
Whether he has a real shot or not, this is Weld’s finest hour.