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SCOT LEHIGH

In search of Bill Weld’s real motive

Former Governor of Massachusetts William F. Weld.
Former Governor of Massachusetts William F. Weld.Tina Fineberg for The Boston Globe

Sometimes, something completely out of the blue doesn’t surprise you a bit.

Let’s say you heard that Bill Weld was proposing a monorail over the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Or that he’d leased a submarine and planned to open an underwater pub in Boston Harbor.

Hmm, you’d say, if he can work out the details, that makes a strange kind of sense.

In Weld’s world, anyway.

Which brings us to Weld’s plan to run for national office as libertarian Gary Johnson’s second banana.

When evaluating Weld’s political moves, you always have to ask yourself this question: Is this simply a boredom-battling gambit, or does he have a hidden motivation?

Or both?

Weld, after all, has long rowed to his duck blind with muffled oars.

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As he approached the reelection year of 1994, the then-governor wanted a high-profile race that would launch him into national orbit. And so he tried to lure poor muddle-headed Joe Kennedy II, then a rambunctious — um, ambitious — congressman, into the race with bait-the-bear gibes disguised as professions of fear about facing such a famous-named foe.

“All that hair? All those teeth? You gotta run scared,” Weld said.

Kennedy, who spent much of the 1990s as a hemming and hawing gubernatorial-run Hamlet, took a pass, leaving Weld with lesser fish to fry. That is, Mark Roosevelt. Reelected overwhelmingly, Weld mulled a presidential candidacy, and decided instead to try to unhorse John Kerry from the US Senate. Thwarted by Kerry, Weld stunned the state by accepting Bill Clinton’s nomination for ambassador to Mexico. Blocked by conservative Senate baron Jesse Helms, Weld next relocated to New York, where he mounted an unsuccessful bid for Empire State governor. Back in Massachusetts again, and working as a lobbyist, lawyer, and deal-maker, he’s now decided to join Johnson’s quest.

Why? Weld declined a request for an interview until after the Libertarian Party National Convention in Orlando, but he has said publicly that he wants to nudge the Democrats rightward on fiscal issues and the Republicans leftward on social matters.

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But let’s look for craftier intent. Weld, the Globe has reported, is telling confidants that he hopes the Libertarian ticket will attract enough votes to deny either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton the 270 electoral votes needed to win, thereby pushing the election into the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

That rationale certainly gives Republicans discontent with Donald Trump a reason for voting the Johnson-Weld ticket. Why, if the decision were thrown to the House, Speaker Paul Ryan might just become president.

Problem: The into-the-House scenario is highly unlikely. Despite winning 19 percent of the national vote in 1992, Ross Perot garnered no electoral votes. The last third-party candidate to make any electoral college impact was Southern segregationist George Wallace, who carried five states in 1968. He, too, hoped to force the election into the House, there to play kingmaker, but the 46 electoral votes he won weren’t enough to deny Richard Nixon victory.

So let’s dive deeper into the murk in our search for a motive.

Although Weld and Johnson ostensibly offer an avenue for disaffected Democrats as well as Republicans, both have been much more critical of Trump. Further, libertarian-inclined voters are usually part of the GOP coalition. Add it all up, and it’s more likely that the Johnson/Weld effort will draw more Republican votes than Democratic ones.

The result? In some swing states, it could well siphon potential votes from Trump and thus possibly tip the state to Hillary Clinton. That is, to Weld’s Nixon-impeachment-era colleague on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee — and the wife of the man who nominated him for an ambassadorship.

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Don’t expect Weld to acknowledge such a motive; doing so would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. But it’s just the sort of double bank shot he loves.


Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.