It’s been 10 years since Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, parachuted into New York State with a long-shot plan. Based on deep New York roots, he sought the Republican nomination for governor that year in a bid to become the first American since Sam Houston to lead two states.
That effort proved unsuccessful, as did other endeavors like a Senate candidacy against John Kerry and Senate confirmation as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Mexico.
But Weld has always sported a reputation as an achieving Republican governor in a deep-blue state. And now he launches another long shot as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson’s running mate on the Libertarian ticket for president and vice president.
It’s a long shot worth pursuing, he says, that could significantly alter the 2016 presidential election. That’s because with polls showing Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton the most unpopular presidential candidates in history, voters may very well look for an alternative ticket like Johnson-Weld.
“Gov. Gary Johnson and Gov. Bill Weld are fiscal conservatives and socially liberal,” he said a few days ago from Salt Lake City. “That describes the majority of people in the United States, but something that’s not offered by either major party.”
Libertarians, of course, run a presidential candidate every four years with calls for minimal government intrusion in American life, never with much impact. Weld thinks this year is different; that voters seek a “third way,” especially as the Grand Old Party – his party – offers its most controversial candidate in history.
“We offer reasonable and conservative economic and fiscal policy to stimulate job creation,” he said. “And if you have an open society, you can’t have this ‘my way or the highway’ attitude that represents the platform in Cleveland.”
Weld has always followed a Rockefeller Republican route – essential for success in places like Massachusetts and New York. It’s what appealed to Buffalo’s Chris Jacobs – the former New York secretary of state and current county clerk and State Senate candidate whom Weld selected as his own running mate during the gubernatorial campaign of 2006.
“He’s an incredibly bright guy with a wealth of diverse life experience,” Jacobs said. “And he believes the focus of government should be about not getting involved in peoples’ private lives. So I’m not surprised he’s running.”
Weld, meanwhile, seems motivated mostly by Trump himself. He slowly burns over ideas like banning Muslim immigrants or building a giant wall across the Mexican border.
“Neither of these strike me as very American approaches. In fact, they’re very un-American,” he said. “All we’ll do is end up antagonizing Mexico, creating a hostile Mexico right on our border – in addition to being rather mean-spirited.
And he believes Trump’s ideas about trade will cause enough problems to get the United States “hauled in front of the World Court in The Hague as a rogue nation.”
The key for Johnson and Weld now is to strengthen their polling numbers to qualify for the fall’s national debates. Already, surveys show the ticket creeping upward in western states, among millenials and – significantly – the undecided.
“It may be very difficult to keep us out of the debates,” he said.
Weld says neither he nor Johnson are libertarian zealots. Both are experienced chief executives who have governed Democratic states. Both have “been there.”
“That takes some of the risk off a third-party vote,” he said.
Weld believes qualifying for the debates will provide millions worth of free media – enough to grab the nation’s attention. The rest, he believes will work itself out.
“The two-party system has run its course,” he said. “Like all monopolies, they get calcified and rigid. When people wake up … they’ll realize it’s time to let in a little fresh air here.”