The Interview: Republican Presidential Hopeful Bill Weld

The former Massachusetts governor turned GOP presidential candidate on how he plans to beat Trump—in the election and on the golf course.

Photo by Ken Richardson

Presidential hopeful Bill Weld strides into his Boston campaign headquarters looking every bit the part of someone challenging Donald Trump for the Republican nomination: dark suit, white shirt, and a red power tie. Tall, with a pugilist’s nose, he has a laconic demeanor that hints at his pedigree: Middlesex, Harvard, Oxford, and descended from a signatory of the Declaration of Independence. In other words, Weld is a vision of the principled GOP candidate of blessed memory. In recent years, the former federal prosecutor and two-term Massachusetts governor has become somewhat of a perennial presence on the presidential ticket—but despite his brief flirtation playing second fiddle for the Libertarians in 2016, he says he’s always remained a devout pachyderm. Now, he’s out to take his beloved party back from the vulgarians and win the White House.

What are your unvarnished, visceral feelings about Donald Trump?

I think the president has personal issues. I think he feels insecure. The reason he asserts that he’s a stable genius is that he knows damn well he’s not stable. And he’s such a genius that he had his fixer, lawyer Michael Cohen, threaten to sue the University of Pennsylvania if either his grades or his aptitude scores ever became public. I think that’s telling.

How do you respond to those who argue that your candidacy is just an attempt to play spoiler and damage Trump, and that the nomination is unwinnable for you?

I’m planning to win this race. People ask, “If you’re not elected but you succeed at making Trump lose—would that be winning?” And my answer is, “No, it would be a substantial achievement.” Let me be perfectly plain: I think the country is in danger from Mr. Trump, because I think the idea he has in mind is systematically dismantling our democratic institutions. Just look at what he says about the free press being the enemy of the people. Look at what he says about the judiciary, that we can’t have an independent judiciary telling us what to do. Look at what he says about his coequal branches of government. The Congress of the United States, he says, has absolutely no power to investigate him. That flies in the face of the exact language of the Constitution and the allocation of power. That’s a quintessentially impeachable and removable offense. That’s precisely why the framers of our Constitution put the removal clause in, to get rid of a person who maintains precisely those positions.

What are your thoughts on the impeachment by the House?

It was a necessary step. The Constitution says if certain offenses have been committed, or certain factual situations exist, then the House has a duty to impeach and the Senate has a duty to remove. And I think that predicate is easily made here. Mr. Trump’s unfitness for office, and his efforts to interfere with and gum up the proper workings of our constitutional system, far eclipse anything Richard Nixon ever dreamed of doing.

Is there anything positive that Trump’s administration has accomplished?

Oh, sure. I’m with the president all the way on Space Force and increasing NASA’s budget. I think that shows vision. I always liked it when the United States and Russia jointly manned the space station, because that kind of bound us together, and we were both looking in the same direction instead of staring daggers at each other. And I would have supported the tax cut. I think it tilted too much in favor of the super-rich, but it had a number of elements that I think are good for employment. It accelerated depreciation, which always induces businesses to build a plant next door or buy an expensive piece of equipment, both of which have distinct multiplier effects on creating new jobs. That’s really my bread and butter. I’m sorry to say, but I’ve never met a tax cut that I didn’t like, because I’ve never seen a layer of government—federal, state, or local—that I didn’t think was at least 10 percent bigger than it needed to be.

Why do you want the job of president?

I’ve wanted this job for a long time, and I almost ran in 1996. At the end of the day, I ran for Senate against John Kerry instead, thinking that that might be a necessary step, because I was already out of step with most of the national Republican Party on the issues of abortion and gay rights. But I knew that much would be forgiven if I could win the Senate seat, and then I would have gone right on to run for president in 2000. That was the plan. But a funny thing happened on the way to the 2000 election: I lost the Senate race.

Are we going to see a direct frontal attack on Trump from the Weld campaign, or are you going to run on your own merits?

Well, both. I’m not going to avoid speaking truth to power. I have no problem with confrontation. My motto is the opposite of Michelle Obama’s. My motto is: If they go low, we go lower.

What’s the part of campaigning that you enjoy the most?

Parades. Being able to look into 10,000 pairs of eyes in an hour and a half is a rare treat, and you can absolutely tell what people are thinking.

Least favorite?

Lack of sleep, when it does occur, is my least favorite part, but I can do anything for a day. You know, three hours of sleep for one night, that’s fine. You just race through the next day and drink plenty of coffee. But give me three or four hours of sleep two nights in a row, and I start to drag anchor.

Best campaign swag you’re working on?

We’re thinking about T-shirts and blazers that read, WATA: Weld America Together Again.

Fantasy running mate?

Well, I guess Andrew Yang.

Is there a candidate who you would step aside for?

No, I don’t think so. If Mike Bloomberg had chosen to run as a Republican, I would have stepped aside for him. But that candidate would have to be a Republican, because I am running, on purpose, against Mr. Trump in the Republican primary.

Is there any particular shot across the bow, or strong message, that you would like to send to the GOP?

Yes. I think that if they don’t disavow Donald Trump’s outrageous racism, many of their members are going to be defeated in the 2020 election. And I think it’s possible that the Republican Party will cease to exist in its present form. It may fall into two parts, like the Former Republican Party and the Trump Wing of the Republican Party. The Trump path is similar to the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s, with its anti-immigrant fervor, violent rallies, and conspiracy theories. Those three are really the calling card.

Why do you think so many members of the GOP are so loyal to Trump?

It must be fear. It doesn’t make any rational sense whatsoever. One reason I think I’m a good candidate to run against Donald Trump is because once you’ve been assistant attorney general of the United States in charge of the criminal division, you’re not scared of anybody. Former Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona has said that if you put it to a secret ballot in the Republican caucus, you’d get 35 votes to convict Trump, and I suspect that’s true. I know most of the senior Republicans in the Senate now. I raised a lot of money for the party over the years. And their distaste comes through, even if they don’t quite say it.

Do you think the GOP is the party of pragmatism?

Not anymore. It’s now the party of crony capitalism.

How about the far-left Democrats? Are they idealists? Delusional? Bolsheviks?

They’re well meaning, but I think they’re mistaken, as they believe that a platform such as Senator Warren and Senator Sanders have espoused can win a presidential election. The United States is a slightly right-of-center country. It’s not a left-of-center country. And it pains me to think that Mr. Trump might prevail if he were the nominee in a contest against one of them, simply by flinging the word “socialism” at them from dawn to dusk. He’s a specialist in using only one word, for example, “hoax” or “wall,” and repeating it endlessly. It suits his base and his skill set, since he doesn’t have much of a knowledge base about any issues. Being able to keep it to one word is helpful.

Where do you see yourself on the political spectrum?

I always said, when I was in office, that if Milton Friedman was a zero on a scale of one to 10 in terms of industrial policy, meaning the level of government intervention, Mike Dukakis was an 11. I’m not a zero. I’m guessing I’m about a four.

As president, would you use the same sort of reach-across-the-aisle, libertarian approach in dealing with intractable issues
as you did as governor here at home?

Sure. I mean, I’m the same guy, philosophically, that I’ve been since I was 18 years old and joined the Republican Party. And people think that because I ran with Gary Johnson as a Libertarian in 2016 that that was some kind of gap or a lacuna in my intellectual development. No. Nothing changed. I think I absorbed some pretty good reasoning from that venture as a Libertarian. Certainly, I became more steeped in the history of the Bill of Rights, and in particular, the 10th Amendment, providing that power is not granted to the federal government and is reserved to the states respectively, and to the people. That sits in my central cortex a lot more squarely than it used to.

How do you handle stress?

I’m stress-friendly. I thrive on it. It’s temperamental. I’m a happy warrior. I’m a Leo, and Leos are optimistic.

How do you feel about your parents giving you the middle name Floyd?

I love it. The William Floyd who signed the Declaration of Independence for New York State lived on a big farm in eastern Long Island. I grew up on Long Island, and we gave the Floyd property to the National Park Service in 1965. It’s now the William Floyd Estate. And I frequently dropped by there. My wife and I had a house in Bellport, about 10 minutes’ drive away, for a dozen years, and we would go by and visit the old family manse, and the outbuildings, the root cellar, and the corn cribs. It was cool.

Forget the election for just a moment. Do you think you could beat Trump on the golf course?

Well, with unlimited mulligans, anybody could.

To get philosophical, Plato once said that the most important quality in a leader is not wanting to be a leader. Agree or disagree?

I think there’s something in that. I think being comfortable in your own skin is a very useful trait to have in a leader, because it means you’re not constantly distracted by internal demons, such as insecurity and fear and anger. And you can analyze issues calmly. It’s a quality, I think, that may be lacking in Washington, DC, at the moment.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the country right now?

I’d say the trillion-dollar deficit is pressing. Climate change is pressing. And I think poverty and income inequality are pressing. I said that maybe 15 years ago, but the country is so divided as a result of Mr. Trump’s efforts to divide it that I’ve begun to worry about social cohesion. A frontal assault on poverty and income inequality is necessary on prudential, as well as moral, grounds.

Harkening back to your days as governor, any concerns regarding brown liquor or marijuana coming back to haunt you in this election?

I’ve never smoked a cigarette of any kind in my life. Brown liquor? That’s different.

Well, now marijuana is legal in Massachusetts.

Sure, sure. But it’s still not for me. As for brown liquor? These days, it’s more like white wine.

Say you’re elected. What’s the first thing you’ll do as president?

I’ll call up the leaders of Congress and say, “Let’s have just a social meeting. How about every Monday afternoon? Would that work?”

How about your first hundred days?

Doing something about the budget, the environment, and poverty.

If you do win, would you create a new cabinet-level position of Presidential Jester, and can I be the first one?

I think you’d be well qualified. Dust off your jester hat.