Friday, May 20, 2016

Bill Weld Goes Rogue

So, William F. Weld, former Republican governor of Massachusetts, is running for Vice-President on the Libertarian ticket. That's a ridiculous thing, but it's a ridiculous year, and I'm less interested in this trivial fringe campaign than in what it says that Weld, who was once seen as a real comer in national politics, would even bother with this.

Now, let's get one thing out of the way: Weld has a very old connection to Hillary Clinton. They worked together as lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate. Later, Bill Clinton appointed Weld to be US Ambassador to Mexico, an appointment sabotaged by Weld's fellow Republican Jesse Helms. (This after Weld had already resigned his governorship, so some real intraparty payback. Did I mention that Weld got his start in politics going after Nixon?)

So a conspiracy-minded type might see Weld's move as an attempt to help Clinton. Which, you know, it is. The whole goal here is to leach a few votes from Trump in the general election. But, like most conspiracy theories, it doesn't really make sense when you do a cost benefit analysis. Weld could probably help Clinton more by defecting to the Democrats outright, or by starting some Republicans Against Trump group. And there's no clear way for Clinton to pay Weld back after she wins. If Senate Republicans were willing to sabotage a Weld appointment in 1997, the 2017 Senate Republicans aren't about to welcome a new Weld nomination with open arms. So there's no payoff here. Weld has nothing to gain.

So why is someone like William Weld,  who has all the money and accomplishment he could possibly need, doing this? I think the answer is that the Republican Party, in his current incarnation, has orphaned him. William Weld has become a man without a party. He has nothing left to lose.

This is striking because Weld is as Old Republican Establishment as it comes. He's from a very old, very rich Boston family. The Welds aren't the kind of family who have a building at Harvard named after them. They're the kind of family that has two buildings at Harvard named after them. And that's a pretty short list. Weld is descended from a hero of the Massachusetts Indian wars, and from an important Union general from the Civil War. He's descended, on his mother's side, from a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (The F. in his name is from that ancestor, William Floyd.) When I say the Welds are Republican Establishment, I mean that some of the Welds were there when the Republican Party was established.

Oh, and Weld spent a quarter-century married to a Roosevelt. Teddy's side family, not Franklin's. These people are not Democrats.

Now that guy -- that guy! -- is running as a third-party spoiler to derail the Republican nominee. Something fundamental has changed.

There hasn't been a place for Weld's brand of socially-liberal, economically-conservative Republicanism in the party for a while now. (I've always suspected that Weld's version of Utopia would be the most inclusive and broad-minded country club imaginable.) Remember, Weld's ambassadorship got torpedoed by a hard-right race-baiter who'd started his career as a Democrat. Northern moderates and liberals have been squeezed out. (This is why former Republican Lincoln Chafee briefly ran for the Democratic nomination this year, like former Republican Jim Webb. Today's GOP has no room for Northern guys named "Lincoln.") But Weld is clearly not going to defect to the Democrats. Being Republican is part of, well, his DNA. He's got nowhere else to go. So now he's on the street making (extremely polite and wittily self-deprecating) trouble.

In the long run, this is going to be trivial. The Johnson/Weld ticket is not going into the history books as a game-changer. But it is a reminder that in turbulent times, the upheaval doesn't move in a single direction. The chaos takes many forms, in contradictory ways. It isn't that Trump gets to upend one of the major political parties and everybody else carries on as normal. Today a talented and loyal son of the Republican Party, a man whose Republican roots go back before Lincoln's election, has become an agent of electoral anarchy. We're living in weird times. And even the pros are getting weird.

cross-posted from (and all comments welcome at) Dagblog

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