If Senator Amy Klobuchar is attempting to present herself as the rare centrist Democrat running in the 2020 Presidential campaign, former Governor Bill Weld is trying to be something even more unusual in today’s political climate: a Reagan Republican.
Not in terms of policy. There’s nobody currently in the race who approximates Reagan’s policy stance. Yes, Weld would come closest if he officially announces, but that’s akin to saying that out of a dalmatian, a toaster and a frisbee, the dalmatian is the closest thing to a giraffe.
The part of Reagan’s legacy which would be in play would rather be Reagan’s efforts as a national unifier. This was one of Weld’s strengths as a Massachusetts Governor. He was elected with a 50-47% margin in a heavily Democratic state, but his success came at a time when voters were unhappy with repeated failures from the Democrats. He was re-elected with 71% of the vote four years later, while having both Democrats and Republicans in prominent cabinet slots.
The landslide election – the biggest lopsided victory in any Massachusetts Governor’s race – happened because he ran his office as a fiscal conservative while simultaneously supporting many traditionally liberal stances. Of the most prominent of those… supporting gun control, being actively pro-choice, being for same-sex marriage, expanding Medicaid, arguing against criminal charges for recreational drug possession… the only one he has since renounced was his support of gun control. His economic policy, however, led to reduced state deficits, widespread job growth and business development.
This record is what led to Gary Johnson demanding that Weld be his running mate in 2016. Johnson had been another impressively successful Republican Governor, and the idea was that two people with proven track records might mount a successful campaign. What most people recall about the Libertarian 2016 ticket, though, was that Johnson was an admitted pot smoker, he beat himself up repeatedly over misunderstanding “Aleppo”, and he was so slow to respond that his running mate often answered most of the questions directed at the team.
The quick-witted of the pair is the one who’s looking at a potential Republican run this time. The same sharp mind is what led him to graduate with honors from Harvard and study economics at Oxford.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Republican leader who Donald J. Trump aggressively denounced and opposed was Ronald Reagan. During the same time, the Republican leader that fought with Weld was Jesse Helms. Not because he was advocating for special LGBT privileges but rather because he was in favor of treating everyone equally.
Weld’s recanting of his prior gun control stance demonstrates that he is capable of admitting errors and moving past them. His documented record is one of political success, unifying actions, fiscal wisdom and, in those areas where I disagree with him, doing so with an eye toward personal liberty.
In the absence of a Buckley-style conservative, a Weld-style centrist would be an acceptable alternative to many. It would signify a complete rejection of the Trumpian takeover of the party and a readiness to “clean house”, with an eye toward a potential revitalization of the conservative wing and an active purge of the racists and bigots. It would stand a significant chance of defeating a Democrat party which is currently depending on the awfulness of Trump to elect them despite their own terrible policies.
I think he has no chance.
This is not to say that I do not support his effort, nor that I don’t think he may develop a chance in the future. I expect he is currently attempting to build a nationwide organization and develop fundraising sources. If he is successful in those endeavors, his work may yet bear fruit.
Right now, however, the Republican party is “dug in” around their support of Trump. The talk radio and Republican news pundits realize that if they admit the depths to which Trump has sunk, they risk losing majorities of their audience and the power and influence they’ve spend decades building. Republican politicians are looking at their diminishing base and gambling that the openly hard-left policies espoused by many prominent Democrats will keep just enough people voting for them in the general. They recognize that strategy requires them to march in lockstep with Trump… hoping their base will not recognize the difference between Trump’s nationalistic statements and his leftward governance.
Weld’s only chance will come if politicians decide that they stand to gain more by wooing alienated ex-Republicans and independents to their side rather than continuing to placate the abortion-funding, monstrously-spending, dictator-subordinating “Conservatives in name only” Trump-era Republican party. I believe that only happens if Trump himself is shown to be guilty of crimes of great enough magnitude that many of his supporters can no longer abide them, or if the country is plunged into fiscal disaster.
Weld could be the first step toward saving a fundamentally corrupted Republican party. I just don’t believe that the Republicans currently are willing to let anyone – especially not an informed section of the electorate – purge that corruption.