Original article published in The Washington Post by Robert Costa available here
Most of Bill Weld’s weeks are filled with campaign trips to New Hampshire, including a February stop in Bedford.
When President Trump formally kicks off his reelection bid before thousands of roaring supporters on a humid Tuesday night in Florida, his lone rival for the Republican nomination will be clinking glasses with friends and donors at a wealthy supporter’s home in Northwest Washington.
For former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, it’s just another day in the life of a campaign that has struggled mightily to gain traction in a party that is dominated and transfixed by Trump.
Instead of arena rallies, most of Weld’s weeks are filled with little-noticed trips to New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, where he stops by diners and living rooms to meet with voters who might remember him from when he was a neighboring governor in the 1990s.
Other weeks are dotted with meetings and television appearances — he was on MSNBC on Sunday morning — where he has won occasional attention for his scathing criticism of Trump, but little else.
“He would like to be the man on horseback,” Weld said in an interview Monday where he called Trump an aspiring autocrat. “His need for constant praise indicates a desire to have some kind of crowning.”
Weld added, “Mr. Trump could be well pleased if he could do away with all the primaries and even the election.”
While those barbs have won hearty cheers from a cadre of prominent anti-Trump Republicans in Washington, such as conservative commentator William Kristol, Weld has so far found it difficult to expand his coalition beyond that group or to build a following in early voting states.
The president’s backers have ignored or mocked Weld since he announced his campaign in April, calling the Harvard lawyer — who can trace his family’s roots to the Pilgrims — “nothing more than a delusional elitist.” That view is shared in the West Wing, according to several Trump advisers, with Weld dismissed as a speck of lint on a black-tie tuxedo.
Weld is a particular type of Republican: a New England moderate who once had stable footing in the GOP but has all but disappeared in the party’s upper ranks. He is measured in temperament, advocates for strong ties with traditional U.S. allies, and is socially liberal. Weld supports abortion rights, and he was elected governor in 1990 and 1994 with the support of Republicans like President George H.W. Bush.
Trump’s approach to governing and diplomacy is “appalling,” Weld said. “I hope people eventually wake up to that, and Republicans wake up and recognize this isn’t where the party has been or should be.”
Polls, however, show Trump with continued and deep support among Republicans, and many GOP leaders who have expressed private grievances with Trump’s nationalism or conduct are reluctant to break with him publicly, fearing the wrath of the White House or Trump’s devoted followers.
Other Republicans who have flirted with primary challenges, such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and former Ohio governor John Kasich, have either bowed out of consideration or deflected overtures from Trump’s critics. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who has called for Trump’s impeachment, has not ruled out running, but he has not indicated whether he would run as a Republican, independent, or third-party candidate, should he jump in the race.
Weld said he agreed with Amash’s call for Trump’s impeachment and said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should soon begin impeachment proceedings. He also said that Trump should resign.
Despite the daunting odds and dynamics, Weld nonetheless remains cheery about his cause. At age 73 — and after a long and winding political career that has included a stint as the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2016 — he is happy these days to provide like-minded Republicans with an option.
And he is hopeful that, perhaps later this year, he’ll somehow find himself in the political spotlight and be given a chance to lift his campaign’s status from quixotic to competitive, at least in New Hampshire, which has given a boost to past challengers of incumbent presidents — and has an open primary where independent voters can vote in party contests.
“When I go around New Hampshire and mention Mr. Trump’s name to people, I get frowns and thumbs down in response, these long faces,” Weld said, calling such exchanges encouraging. “But I know it’s going to be a long haul.”
When asked if there is any chance he drops out before next year’s primary season, Weld said, “No.”
“When I ran for governor, it was an 18- to 24-month campaign. This is nothing. I’ll see you in the snow, put it that way,” Weld said.
For now, getting Trump to participate in a primary debate is a priority, Weld said, but he knows doing so will be difficult.
“If I can’t debate Mr. Trump, maybe I’ll debate Alec Baldwin,” Weld said, a nod to the actor who plays Trump on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Tuesday’s event, billed as a “bipartisan reception” and co-hosted by Kristol and some veteran Democrats at the Kalorama home of philanthropist Joan Tobin, is his latest attempt to generate interest among Washington’s political class. Raising enough money to keep his campaign running through the summer and into the fall is critical, Weld said.
“It’s fair to say ‘seven figures,’ ” Weld said, when asked about how much money his campaign has raised. “We’re hiring up, and hired up a couple people on the ground in New Hampshire. But it’s 10 or 12 people working on the campaign, not 100 people.”
Weld’s strategist is Stuart Stevens, who has worked with him for decades and served as chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Jennifer Horn, a former chairwoman of the New Hampshire GOP, is his campaign manager.
Romney, another former Massachusetts governor and now a U.S. senator for Utah, is a friend, but Weld said “you’d have to ask him,” when asked whether Romney could give Weld his endorsement. Romney, who was elected to the Senate last year, told Politico in May that Weld is a “terrific guy,” but has avoided becoming involved in Republican efforts to defeat Trump or recruit a primary challenger.
Weld said Stevens has advised him to stay patient in the coming months and focus on raising money.
“I agree with Stuart that the fall is when people start paying attention in New Hampshire,” Weld said.
Kristol, meanwhile, said on Monday that Weld is an “undervalued stock,” but acknowledged that it’s an exceedingly uphill climb. He said he was happy to agree to co-host the reception following months of trying and failing to woo bigger names like Hogan to run against Trump.
“Events matter. You never know what could happen with the economy or something else,” he said. “Who knows? There could come a time when Weld starts to cause a ruckus in New Hampshire.”