Bill Weld: Who?

Credit: Bill Weld

This Spring, the Berkeley Public Policy Journal will profile the (many) candidates vying to become the next President of the United States. Starting Tuesday, March 5 – a calendar year before Super Tuesday – BPPJ will feature weekly posts written by Goldman students who are taking a look at who’s running and why. We note that these posts feature author opinions that do not represent BPPJ, the Goldman School of Public Policy, or UC Berkeley.

By Spencer Bowen

Coverage of the Democratic presidential primary is inescapable, with 19 hats (and counting!) thrown into the ring. But will a Republican challenge President Trump?

Despite near-zero name recognition and what might charitably be called an uphill climb in the GOP primary, newly-minted Republican Bill Weld entered the 2020 presidential race this February. Far from a traditional conservative, Weld’s party loyalty has waxed and waned and his policy proposals zig when the Republican mainstream zags. His website may be near-impossible to find with a Google search, but Weld hopes that conservative voters find his libertarian politics attractive enough to mount a challenge to incumbent Donald Trump.

Weld is most well-known as the former Governor of Massachusetts and Gary Johnson’s 2016 libertarian presidential campaign running mate. When he wasn’t playing three simultaneous games of chess while blindfolded, Weld completed an undergraduate degree and a JD at Harvard, eventually serving as US Attorney for Massachusetts and in the Justice Department.

Weld’s libertarian politics inform an interesting cocktail of policy proposals.

  • Weld is a traditional conservative on spending and taxes. He recently said that his top budget priorities are to cut spending and to cut taxes — and spending comes first.”
  • Mainstream coverage claiming that Weld supports gay marriage is somewhat misleading. More accurately, Weld has long supported basic rights for LGBTQ individuals but has stopped short of a full-throated endorsement of marriage equality. He signed an amicus brief against California’s since-overturned Proposition 8 and recognized domestic partnership rights as Governor of Massachusetts. But this tortured 2005 interview reveals Weld trying to have his cake and eat it too by leaning on procedural, legal, and constitutional excuses to skirt explicitly supporting same sex marriage.
  • Beyond same-sex marriage, Weld is liberal on social issues. He supports abortion rights and has supported legalization of medical marijuana since 2002. He even sits on the board of a cannabis strategic investment firm called Acreage Holdings alongside fellow conservative John Boehner (!).

By running as a Republican and not a Libertarian, Weld seems to want to draw an even sharper line between his “traditional” conservative values and Trump’s unorthodox doctrine. Weld has shown little restraint in his criticism of President Trump, often attacking his character and fitness to lead before delving into policy disagreements. On ABC’s “This Week,” Weld said, “I don’t think he knows how to act. He thinks he has to humiliate whoever he’s dealing with or else he’s half a man.”

Weld dove into his long shot campaign with the same determination with which he once dove into the Charles River. His chances appear startlingly bleak — he’s not well-known, he’s barely a Republican, and Trump’s approval among registered Republicans remains sky-high. FiveThirtyEight called Weld “one of the weakest candidates that anti-Trump Republicans could put up in a national campaign.” He can’t even fall back on the Johnson / Weld ticket’s somewhat strong performance in 2016. As of January 1, 2019, the campaign reported $244.73 of cash on hand. Evidence suggests that many are dissatisfied with both major parties, but a challenger in Weld’s mold riding that sentiment to victory seems near-impossible.

Spencer Bowen is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy and a Senior Editor of the Berkeley Public Policy Journal.

This article is an opinion piece, and the opinions expressed represent the author alone. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Berkeley Public Policy Journal, the Goldman School of Public Policy, or UC Berkeley.