Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor and 2016 Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee, is facing some brutal odds this Super Tuesday in his Quixotic quest to wrest the GOP presidential nomination from incumbent Donald Trump.
Weld, who lost to Trump by nearly 96 percentage points in Iowa and nearly 77 in New Hampshire, then watched helplessly as Nevada and South Carolina ceded all delegates to the president rather than hold elections, has not as an official candidate polled higher than 14 percent in any of the 13 states (worth a combined 785 delegates) voting Tuesday. Trump's margin in national polls has not dipped below 80 percentage points since October, and his approval rating among Republicans rests at 93 percent. The president's combined campaign-finance juggernaut is outraising Weld by a ratio of 300 to 1.
And yet the perpetually chipper redhead still sees some upside to his long shot bid. More than half of Super Tuesday states, including Trump-averse Utah, have not been polled. In his home state of Massachusetts, Weld was endorsed by the Boston Globe, in an effort "to salvage time-honored conservative principles and to change the shabby tone of the Trump era."
And though he no longer dreams of being 1992 Pat Buchanan or 1968 Eugene McCarthy, Robert Mueller's old boss does hold out hope that his minor electoral contribution might yet be enough to derail the 2020 Trump train.
"Steve Bannon said that if the president loses four percent of the traditional Republican vote, he cannot be re-elected," Weld told me in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "If that's true, that's a marker I can meet. And it would not pain me to think that I had some responsibility for bringing it about that Donald J. Trump was not re-elected president."
Weld, who has campaigned consistently on reducing debt/deficits, updating 1990s-flavored moderate-conservative reform for the 21st century, and railing against Trump's unfitness, also told me that he still thinks the Republican Party might go the way of the Whigs, and that a "strong third party" including "centrist Democrats" and "centrist libertarians" might rise from the ashes in 2021 or 2022. He also said he would back Joe Biden or Michael Bloomberg if they became the Democratic presidential nominee, though not Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) at this time.
The following is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:
Reason: What results do you need to see tomorrow to stick in until Wednesday?
Weld: Well, I'll be sticking in anyway. I mean, we've got Michigan coming up on the 10th. We've got Florida coming up on the 17th. So I don't want to miss those.
In terms of tonight, I would say my top three states are probably Vermont, Massachusetts, and Utah. I've been endorsed by Evan McMullin, who got 20 percent-plus in Utah last time. Had some very nice visits out there with the [Latter Day Saints] folks, who I get along with very well. So that's why that's in the top three. […]
Colorado is an open primary, and I think unpredictable—I'm not predicting victory there, but that could be an interesting state. California, likewise, not predicting victory, because it's a closed primary, but Trump has really declared open war on California, so that could be of interest. Otherwise, I'd like to see what happens in Texas and North Carolina, Tennessee. It should be an enjoyable evening.
Reason: What have you learned in this process since you jumped in?
Weld: I've learned that the duopoly in Washington, D.C., is every bit as bad as Gary Johnson and I thought it was four years ago. It's really paralyzing the country and preventing forward motion. When you have a president of the United States who shares that poisonous view and is vengeful into the bargain, that makes it even worse. So that's what I've learned!
It's all about Washington, D.C., the bad stuff—it's not about the state capitals and states, it's not about the Trump voters. I think it's about Donald Trump, the increased negativity.
Reason: What have you observed on a state-by-state level, including even in Massachusetts to the extent that it's relevant, about the way that Trump and the national GOP has muscled in on state GOPs, or that just state GOPs know that in order to be popular you need to stay in good with the president?
Weld: Well, no, it's not that they're inferring anything, it's that they're told things. Because once the Republican National Committee merged its operations with the Trump campaign, then from that point forward the Republican state committee in every single state was, is, and remains the Trump organization. So it doesn't pay me to try to bark up that tree.
My strategy needs to be, and has been, to try to increase the number of people voting in the Republican primary—more women, more younger voters, more minorities, et cetera, et cetera. Just voters who are perhaps marginally more likely to rally to my flag than a classical Republican voter who's voted in the last five Republican primaries.
Reason: You mentioned that the duopoly is every bit as strong, if not stronger. And yet we're on the verge of having Trump, who was an outsider, take over the Republican Party and mold it in his image, largely. And Bernie Sanders is on the verge of being a democratic socialist independent who might do the same with the Democratic Party. What do you make of that paradox? So, the duopoly is super strong and yet vulnerable to takeover by kind of anti-establishment figures?
Weld: Well, I'm not sure Sanders is going to get there, frankly. Most people seem to think that he will.
I think Donald Trump essentially cemented his takeover of what I'll call the Trump faction of the Republican Party…when 52 Republican senators not only said, "We don't want to hear any evidence," they also said, "We really don't want to consider whether you should be removed from office, although the Constitution requires us to do so." That was not a good showing.
And I know that a number of them have said to the press on background since their vote, "I did it because of fear. I did it because I was fearful the president would run somebody against me to my right in the primary, and I would lose my seat." I'll tell you, if that was the case with me, I would never have admitted that to anybody on or off the record! That's a shameful admission.
Reason: You and I talked a lot in 2017 and 2018 when you were still doing a lot of activities within the Libertarian Party; you had an analysis of the Republican Party facing a future in which maybe they go the way of the Whigs, maybe they kind of split apart and get reborn anew into something else, or explode. I want you to re-evaluate that analysis. And then also, might that be happening on the Democratic side as well?
Weld: Well, victory is a wonderful salve. And if the Democrats win the election, I don't think that'll happen, Democratic side.
On our side, yeah, no, I think the same thing I did last time. And this time, because of their votes to acquit without hearing any evidence, I think the Republican senators are vulnerable this year.
I saw this happen with the Nixon impeachment when people who had gone through the draining exercise of defending President [Richard] Nixon all summer long and saying, "There's insufficient evidence that he knew about the Watergate conspiracy to tank the Jaworski investigation"—they lost their seats. Including people like Rep. Wiley Mayne from Iowa, who had won handsomely [before] but was voted out. I mean, they looked kind of ridiculous.
I'm not sure that a number of the Republican senators this time around don't look ridiculous. So I think there's a decent chance that the Republicans will lose the Senate.
Then you could see some finger-pointing and forces at play that could cause a split-up of the party, similar to the split-up of the Whigs in the 1850s with the Know-Nothing faction, which was founded on anti-immigrant prejudice. It was all the Catholics from Germany and Italy and Ireland that they hated, and they had violent rallies and they had conspiracy theories. It's a carbon copy of the Trump faction now. But they did pinwheel out into outer space and were never heard from again. Except for Speaker Nathaniel Banks of the Massachusetts House, who also became speaker of the U.S. House, I think. But he was an outlier. So I think that could happen again, and I'm not sure it'd be a bad thing.
You might see a third party—a strong third party, not a single-issue third party—emerge out of the remnants of traditional Republicans. Some centrist Democrats, some centrist libertarians. That could be an interesting party. I'll just call it the Unity Party for the time being. That's something that could happen. But it's not going to happen in 2020. It would be 2021, 2022.
Reason: It's not hard to look at your situation and see some pretty bad math…So what are some glass-half-full analyses of the numbers going into tomorrow, even if there are some lopsided defeats?
Weld: Well, although you'd always like to win any contest you get into, and I'm no stranger to long odds—my first governor's race, I won, even though I started at sub-asterisk levels and everyone laughed and said, "You got to get out of this race"—however, I do think that of the reasons that I'm running, number one is I think I could start Monday on the job, and I have half a dozen things that I think desperately need doing. But number two is—and the reason I ran as a Republican this time as opposed to a Libertarian—one of the reasons is that every vote for me, even a write-in vote for me, is not a vote for Trump.
Steve Bannon said that if the president loses 4 percent of the traditional Republican vote, he cannot be re-elected. I don't know whether Bannon was being serious or not, but he's usually serious. And if that's true, that's a marker I can meet. And it would not pain me to think that I had some responsibility for bringing it about that Donald J. Trump was not re-elected president.
Reason: I know you don't spend a lot of time commenting on the Democratic race, for obvious reasons, but is it safe to assume that if it's candidate Biden or Bloomberg, you would vote or encourage people to vote Democrat? And if it's candidate Sanders, you're going to wait and see who the Libertarians nominate?
Weld: That's exactly correct.