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Commentary: Why Bill Weld Is Targeting Donald Trump

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld addresses an audience in Boston on Sept. 8, 2016. (Steven Senne/AP)
Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld addresses an audience in Boston on Sept. 8, 2016. (Steven Senne/AP)
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Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld spoke out forcefully against Donald Trump in a Boston news conference on Tuesday.

Since Weld is the vice presidential nominee of the Libertarian ticket headed by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, it struck some as odd that he directed "his message principally to Republicans who believe their president should exhibit standards of decency and discipline," reported WBUR’s Anthony Brooks.

But it wasn’t really startling. Months ago when Weld and Johnson spoke in a CNN Town Hall Forum for their ticket, Weld made it clear that he considered Hillary Clinton far superior to Trump. He had worked with her in Washington during the Watergate investigations and had high regard for her integrity and work ethic.

Still, Weld was unusually personal in making the case that Trump did not have a presidential temperament:

"Most families would not allow their children to remain at the dinner table if they behaved as Mr. Trump does. He has not exhibited the self-control, the discipline or the emotional depth necessary to function credibly as a president of the United States."

Weld spoke of Trump as a dangerous, divisive demagogue:

"This is the worst of American politics. I fear for our cohesion as a nation and for our place in the world if this man, who says he is unwilling to abide by the result of our national election, becomes our president."

Despite recent polls showing Trump well behind Clinton, Weld expressed worry:

"I'm one of those who thinks there's a hidden Trump vote of 3 percent — maybe more — of people who don't want to tell pollsters that they're voting for Donald Trump, so I'm not at all relaxed about the outcome of this election."

Weld is a savvy politician. He realizes, from polls and news coverage, that his Libertarian ticket has been in decline. Months ago it was plausible that his running mate could rise to 15 percent in the polls, and thus qualify for inclusion in the prime-time debates with Trump and Clinton. But Johnson didn’t have the compelling message or personality to make that happen. And when he had to admit in a TV interview that he didn’t know what Aleppo was, and in a later interview couldn’t name a foreign leader he respects, his ignorance turned him into a punch line.

There’s been occasional speculation about whether the Libertarian ticket could have soared in popularity if the ticket had been reversed, with Weld as the presidential candidate. It’s easy to conclude now that things could have been very different with that change. But, alas, we can’t prove a negative — it didn’t happen.

Weld stopped short of saying what many opinion leaders read between his lines: He seemed to be urging Republicans to vote for Clinton as a way to make sure that Trump loses. He probably felt that being so blatant — pulling the rug out from under his own ticket — would be unfair to his running mate. And it would seem disloyal to his new party, confirming to the half of Libertarian delegates who did not want Weld on the ticket that they were right: He’s not a true believer in their cause.

At a stop in Worcester earlier in the month, he affirmed his commitment to the Libertarian ticket.

Still, if the Trump-Clinton contest tightens again, and Trump seems a threat to win, perhaps Weld will change his mind and endorse Clinton outright. But that’s just speculation.

I think Weld’s motives in being so candid about Trump are what they appear to be: a sincere belief that Trump would be harmful to the Republic. Weld has always been independent-minded and serious about public service, and he sounds like a leader who is willing to put his country ahead of his (new) party.

If Weld continues to speak so passionately against Trump — especially in swing states like New Hampshire, where the Libertarian ticket has 13 percent support — he could conceivably persuade a significant number of undecided voters to not cast a protest vote, and instead choose the non-Trump candidate who could actually win: Clinton. Weld probably won’t do that if the polling trends continue to favor Clinton; he’ll continue to make the case for Johnson, despite knowing there won’t be a third President Johnson in the near future.

And maybe a president-elect Clinton would ask Weld to join her administration. It’s doubtful that she’d ask him to be the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico — the position he was nominated for by former President Bill Clinton, and for which Weld resigned as governor, but then failed to win in a Senate confirmation battle. But Weld might be willing to become U.S. Ambassador to Canada, the job once held by Weld’s successor and former Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci.

Stranger things have happened — every day in this campaign.

Related:

Todd Domke Twitter Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

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