Bill Weld remembers watching the Republican presidential debates, in 2015, and thinking businessman Donald Trump was the most refreshing candidate on stage.
“There were a lot of people in the country who felt they had been left behind somehow, overlooked somehow,” Weld said in an interview Friday morning. “I, of all people, agree there are a lot of people who have been left behind.”
But his sympathy for Trump voters ends there. Weld, a 74-year-old Republican who served as governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, is now running for president to take on the man “bent on dismantling our democratic institutions.”
“I worked years ago on the Nixon impeachment, back in the ‘70s, and actually wrote the legal memorandum for what constitutes grounds for impeachment and removal of the president,” Weld said. “Mr. Trump’s conduct is a classic case for removal.”
Weld’s odds are improbable. Surveys show around 90% of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance in office. Polls show Weld winning between 1% and 5% of likely Republican primary voters.
But Weld emphasized how Washington politics can change in an instant. Nixon won the 1972 election in a 49-state landslide. Just 18 months before his resignation, his approval rating was just south of 70%.
If Trump were removed from office in his impeachment trial, Vice President Mike Pence would become president. But Pence could miss the deadline to appear on the 2020 ballot, opening a window for Weld and former Ill. Congressman Joe Walsh, another longshot candidate.
For Weld to appear viable as an alternative to Trump, he’d have to beat expectations in New Hampshire, where his campaign has devoted most of its energy. Walsh has crisscrossed Iowa for months and staked more of his candidacy on the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
In a December interview with the Times, Walsh called the Republican Party a “cult.”
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For his part, Weld's Republican identity is about fiscal conservatism.
“There’s no such thing as government money; there’s only taxpayer money. Everybody in Washington seems to have lost sight of that,” Weld said. “I was ranked the most fiscally conservative governor in the United States.”
When asked why more Republicans aren’t challenging Trump in the primary — or even speaking out against a president Weld said has “shown contempt for the entire idea of the rule of law” — the former Mass. governor called it "a puzzle.”
“It could be a kind of Stockholm syndrome, where they identify with their captor. It could be an obsession with getting re-elected,” Weld said.
If his bid for the Republican nomination is unsuccessful, Weld said he “didn’t know” if he would vote for a Democrat in the general election. He did add the “two intriguing candidates” are South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
”About 15-20% of all jobs that exist in the United States today will be lost in the next 10 years,” Weld said, echoing many themes central to the Yang campaign. “These would be Trump voters, almost by definition...I am sure it’s going to be a national emergency and should have the full attention of the president of the United States.”
Weld’s Iowa ground-game is meager, and his fundraising paltry against Trump. At the end of September, Weld had $208,043 cash on hand, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Trump had $83.2 million.
In Weld’s corner is former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach, who served in the U.S. House from 1977 until 2007. On Friday Leach called Weld “the most impressive long-shot candidate for president ever in the United States,” adding he was “a fabulous governor of Massachusetts” who “learned how to deal with a Democratic legislature as a Republican.”
Weld touts his bi-partisan spirit and executive experience.
“I think being governor is good preparation for being president of the United States,” he said. “I feel capable of starting Monday in the job. I would not be running if this were 2017. I do think we now know a lot more about how he’s comported himself in office. He falls well short of minimum standards.”