On an unseasonably warm Sunday morning in Des Moines, former Massachusetts governor William Weld stood on the sidewalk in front of Raygun, a fun and funky T-shirt store, and addressed a gathering of perhaps 30 people, including media, about why he was running against President Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020.
There was no talk of what would happen when he defeated Trump in the Iowa caucuses or what a Weld administration would do on day one. Weld knows the deck is stacked against him. But the 74-year-old who ran as the vice-presidential nominee on the Libertarian ticket in 2016 believes Donald Trump poses a grave threat to our political institutions. Trump is, Weld said, a “would-be tyrant.”
Before ducking inside the store to shop—Weld purchased a Kansas City Chiefs shirt—the former governor outlined three primary concerns in a 10-minute Q&A. First, Trump has no regard for the Constitution or the rule of law and is on his way to becoming a tyrant and a dictator. Second, Weld said he is running because political campaigns used to be opportunities for vigorous and productive discussions of the issues, but this is no longer the case. Indeed, Weld argued that Senate Republicans’ vote last week to refuse to hear witnesses and move swiftly to an acquittal in the impeachment trial is part of a larger desire to stifle political debate and, by extension, any prospect of accountability for leaders.
As Weld put it, the essential message is “let’s prevent anybody from talking about anything.” Weld said that the sham proceedings aren’t even about Trump. They’re about “future presidents,” in particular whether a president has carte blanche to do whatever he or she wants, which the GOP has now signed off on.
Third, Weld believes Trump’s ignorance is a danger to the country because Trump “doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.” Weld described as “terrifying” what he’s heard from senior national security officials: that when they try to brief Trump on issues, within a minute “a light goes off in his eyes” because he’s no longer paying attention. Trump is, quite simply, ill-equipped to be commander-in-chief.
What did Weld want to achieve in Iowa and New Hampshire? He hoped to show some electoral strength in the New Hampshire primaries next week and spoke of exceeding (vanishingly low) expectations in Iowa.
But Bill Weld isn’t running to win. And given the generally small crowds he’s drawn, it’s unlikely he’s doing this for the adulation and accolades, either. Instead, it seems, Weld is trying to do something, anything, to make clear that not all Republicans can countenance the monster in the White House.
Unfortunately for Weld (and not only him), the evidence suggests that he’s in a distinct minority.
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