We're Witnessing in Weld the Genuine Idealist, Long Obscured

Monday, February 18, 2019

According to the latest polls, Donald Trump is viewed favorably by 79% of Republican voters, the simplest indication that former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who has formed a committee to explore a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2020, does not have a chance of beating Trump in the primaries.  Weld, the opposite of stupid, understands that and will likely challenge Trump anyway.  The question is why.

He could be doing it as a lark, which is what his last campaign, as the Libertarian Party nominee for vice president of the United States in 2016, seemed to be.  (Weld only abandoned Libertarianism officially on January 17 when he re-registered as a Republican.  "I'm rejoining the party not of the Know Nothings," he said, "but rather the party of Lincoln.")

He could be doing it because he's bored and needs the excitement and ego-kick of a Republican presidential nomination battle, where he'd be constantly in the spotlight, trading insults with Trump.  What great copy.

He could be doing it because he's honestly terrified of the damage Trump is doing, and could do, to the country and he believes that he can prevent some of it by standing in Trump's way.  "Our country is in grave peril," he avers.

He could be doing it because his personal brand, which has, in recent years, been anchored to the government relations practice of ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin, needs a refresh.  A multi-state campaign will bring publicity he could never afford.

Or, he could be doing it purely out of a sense of civic duty, as articulated this past Friday morning in a speech before a New Hampshire group convened by the New England Council.  He concluded that speech, an address flowing over with policy details, thusly:

"We cannot sit passively as our precious democracy slips quietly into darkness.  Congress must do its duty, and as citizens we must do ours...in every country, there comes a time when patriotic men and women must stand up and speak out to protect their own individual rights and the overall health of the nation.  In our country, this is such a time.  It is time for all people of goodwill  -- and our country is filled with people of goodwill -- to take a stand and plant a flag.  Abraham Lincoln might have called it the flag of the union.  Today we call it the flag of the United -- yes, United! -- States of America."

Earlier in the speech, Weld, vigorous and sharp at 73, called the president out for his "compulsive irrational behaviors," and, in a line that I, as a former newspaper reporter, particularly liked, he complained that Trump "has virtually spit on the idea that we have a free press."

He also said, "...we have a president whose priorities are skewed toward the promotion of himself rather than toward the good of the country...To compound matters, our president is simply too unstable to carry out the duties of the highest executive office -- which include the specific duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed -- in a competent and professional manner.  He is simply in the wrong place.

"They say the president has captured the Republican Party in Washington.  Sad.  But even sadder is that many Republicans exhibit all the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome, identifying with their captor."

It's easy to dismiss our former governor as an eccentric -- Who can forget his resigning as governor to pursue the ambassadorship to Mexico? -- or as a gadfly who can dazzle you in one breath propounding upon the analgesic powers of marijuana and on the injustices of the estate tax in the next -- or as a sell-out trading in his senior years on the name he earned in public offices (Watergate committee counsel, U.S. attorney and governor) during his prime.

I don't see Bill Weld as any more divided than any other member of our species.  The weaknesses and strengths, the flaw and virtues, are all there in equal potency.  He's never done anything so bad, so selfish or so greedy that he's lost communication with the better angels of his nature. 

Those angels, I believe, are telling him now that he has a duty to fight, the odds be damned, a man who happens to be  the antithesis of the New England branch of the Republican Party from which Weld sprang. 

That branch is dead and is not coming back to life.  Bill Weld, though he can bloody Trump, cannot beat him. 

As late-in-life exploits go, this is a gallant one.

FOOTNOTE: In the speech announcing his exploratory committee, Governor Weld spoke of the duties we have as citizens.  If you care about politics, I think you have a duty to read the complete text of that not-hard-to-find-online speech.  Just google, "Bill Weld's Feb. 15 speech in New Hampshire."  As I hinted above, Weld, besides laying hard into Trump, lays out numerous, solid policy prescriptions for what ails America.

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