TAMPA, Fla. — Arguably, it was former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld who blazed the political trail for Mitt Romney. After all, it was Weld’s election and re-election as governor in the 1990s that proved a moderate Republican could win Massachusetts in modern times.
No recent governor had a bigger personality. He is also very much his own man. In 2008, he supported Barack Obama instead of the Republican nominee, John McCain. But this year, as a Republican delegate for New York state, Weld is enthusiastically backing Romney.
We caught up with Weld here in Tampa, in the hotel not where the New Yorkers are staying, but in the hotel where Romney, his family and staff, and the Massachusetts delegates are housed — he’s staying there instead. We spoke with him about his large personality, in a week when the Romney campaign is trying to humanize their candidate.
Gov. Weld: I always had the opposite problem; I was human, all too human. I know Mitt awfully well. He couldn’t be a more genial, relaxed, easy-to-get-along-with person. So my advice to him would be, “Just get out there and be yourself and this is going to be something that’s going to be taken care of by tincture of time as the electorate gets to know you better.”
Do you think personality is important for politicians; is it absolutely necessary?
Well, first, he has a very excellent and winning personality; second, no, I don’t. You know, I don’t think President Nixon had that outgoing a personality, [and] he was elected president of the United States twice. I don’t think there’s much comparison between Gov. Romney and then-candidate Nixon but it’s just an example.
Sometimes people vote for who they think would be the correct steward of affairs at that point in the nation’s history and there I think Mitt has an enormous advantage.
In 2008, we all know that you supported Obama, you called him a “once-in-a-lifetime candidate who would transform politics.” What’s changed?
Well I must say I was very enthusiastic about candidate Obama. I had been supporting Gov. Romney in the primaries and came out for Obama only after Gov. Romney dropped out on the Republican side. You know, I would say just a couple things — and I’m by no means an Obama basher, I just think there’s one or two points that bear mentioning.
One is, somewhat to my surprise, I think the president has not emerged as someone with a deft political hand within Washington, D.C. The other is this debate that’s come to the fore this year, which really is about the economy, that started when the president said that we need more jobs in state and local government, the private sector is doing just fine.
That was surprising enough, but then a couple months later he said — reprising a theme developed by Elizabeth Warren in the Massachusetts Senate race — if you have a job, you didn’t create that job, you didn’t build that job, that job just came from somewhere, it’s not about you. Well, that’s news for everybody that’s ever built a business in the United States.
You’ve always been identified as a moderate to maybe even liberal Republican, although fiscally conservative. I’m wondering if you think Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan, who’s very much on the right, was a good choice?
I think Paul Ryan is a pretty exciting choice for VP.
I’m a member of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, not the movement conservative, social conservative wing, but those two can co-exist without agreeing. When I worked in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, half of us were libertarians and half of us were movement conservatives and we used to joke about it. And then, you know, without too much of a delay we’d go out and get to work for the boss. And it worked fine.
Ronald Reagan would call in to the annual convocation of Citizens for Life and he’d give good taped remarks or call in a good speech but he did not spend a heck of a lot of time as president on those issues. His position was clear enough, but it’s just not an issue for the president of the United States.
Massachusetts is taking a very central role in this year’s convention, compared to years past. Not its usual position — the party is not necessarily usually in love with Massachusetts. Are you enjoying this new position for Massachusetts?
Yeah, it’s great being right here in the Marriott Waterside, which is totally front and center. Gov. Romney and his family and staff are staying here and so is the Massachusetts delegation. I’m kind of an interloper in that I’m a delegate from New York state, but I’m hanging out with the Massachusetts delegation.
I remember in 1990 being in Detroit for the convention that nominated Ronald Reagan and I was with the Massachusetts delegation, of course, and we were located in Plymouth, Mich., which was over an hour’s bus drive from the site of the convention.
And, you know, this year it’s the New York delegation that’s in Clearwater, Fla., which is over an hour’s bus drive from right where you and I are sitting right now. So I’ll take this any day.
I forget, are you a resident of New York?
Yes, I’ve been a resident of New York since 2000, although I’ve been having a lot more fun in Massachusetts and a lot more occasion to be back there recently than I had before.
I know you told Massachusetts delegates that you think you’re going to spend a lot more time in Massachusetts. Is this William Weld code for saying that you might take another swing at Massachusetts politics?
No, Bob, you know I always say what I mean and I never speak in code.
An excellent non-answer. William Weld, thanks a lot.
Thank you, Bob.