Former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld will announce Thursday that he is running for vice president, rejecting the Republican Party of which he has long been a member in favor of the Libertarian Party ticket of another former GOP governor, Gary Johnson of New Mexico, campaign aides to Johnson said Wednesday.
The two former chief executives are expected to announce their partnership Thursday in New York City, the Johnson aides said, the latest sign of the national Republican Party’s struggle to come to grips with the party’s takeover by presumptive nominee Donald J. Trump.
The decision, first reported Wednesday by the Associated Press, took Weld’s business partners and the current Republican governor, his protégé Charlie Baker, by surprise.
Weld’s strategy, according to people with whom he has spoken, is to take advantage of the anticipated media attention paid to two former governors from different parts of the country joining forces, hoping to win sufficient support to land in the televised debates.
If that bank-shot approach works, Weld, according to those who have spoken to him, and Johnson hope to deny Trump — as well as the likely Democratic nominee, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton — the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
That scenario would cast the election into the House of Representatives, which is currently controlled by Republicans.
As of Wednesday night, Baker, a former Weld aide who frequently praises him as a mentor, had not heard from Weld that he had decided to jump onto Johnson’s ticket, aides and advisers said.
“The governor is unaware and has not had a conversation with Governor Weld about this. . . . [Baker] only knows what he has seen through the media,” said Jim Conroy, a senior Baker adviser who left the administration earlier this year but remains close to the governor.
Asked if Baker would support a Weld bid if the vice-presidential run materialized, Conroy replied, “The governor is unaware if this is even the case, doesn’t know very much about Gary Johnson, and is focused on his priorities in state government and on supporting local Republicans and the ballot initiatives he is supporting.”
Weld — who was in Canada this week on business — had not confirmed to his colleagues at Mintz Levin or its lobbying arm, ML Strategies, Wednesday evening that he had decided to join the ticket.
ML Strategies president Steve Tocco — a longtime Weld friend and former aide — said he could not say that Weld was planning to run. “I can’t confirm or deny,” Tocco said.
R. Robert Popeo, chairman of Mintz Levin, declined to comment.
“We got together and shook hands on it,” Johnson told the AP, citing Weld’s fund-raising prowess.
Johnson’s campaign confirmed the partnership late Wednesday when campaign media coordinator John Vaught LaBeaume e-mailed communications director Joe Hunter’s confirmation of the AP story.
A leap to a national ticket could force upon Weld a decision on whether to remain at the downtown legal and lobbying powerhouse, which he joined in 2012.
Weld’s defection from the GOP would constitute the latest sign of the party establishment’s uncertainty about its political footing in 2016. In Massachusetts, the contretemps have been thrown into particularly sharp relief. The state’s popular Republican governor, Baker, has said he would vote in November for neither Trump nor Clinton.
The state’s last Republican to serve in Congress, former US senator Scott Brown, has backed Trump, as has its longtime national committeeman, Ron Kaufman. The party’s chairwoman, Kirsten Hughes, has said she would back the party’s nominee, but has not explicitly endorsed Trump.
And the party’s last GOP governor, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, has actively worked against Trump and warned of a disastrous presidency if he is elected — as has former acting governor Jane Swift.
Weld’s entry into the presidential campaign makes him the first, if not the most likely, prominent Massachusetts politician to join the fray. In a political season that has defied expectations and at times even description, the list of state political figures who have been mentioned in conjecture with a national ticket includes: Romney, Brown, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Democratic governor Deval Patrick, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the Democrats’ 2004 nominee, in the event that Clinton tanked.
It is far from Weld’s first dalliance with straying from party orthodoxy. He endorsed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 over Republican US Senator John McCain. And in 2006, he ran for governor of New York as a Republican — but also received the Libertarian Party endorsement before ultimately falling short at the GOP convention.
A former US attorney, he won election as governor in Massachusetts in 1990 and reelection in 1994. He lose a memorable US Senate race challenging Kerry in 1996 and resigned the next year after Democratic President Bill Clinton nominated to be ambassador to Mexico.
But that selection irked conservative Senate Republicans, and Weld ultimately withdrew.
A colorful figure who has penned novels and frequently flouted the conventions often imposed on other politicians, Weld has remained something of an enigma among the state political class.
One prominent Massachusetts Republican, who has known Weld for decades, said of the prospect of him joining Johnson’s ticket, “I would say it’s nuts, but then again it’s Bill.”