BOSTON (CBS) — Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who announced Friday he’s taking legal steps toward a challenge to President Trump in next year’s GOP primaries, was a pretty good governor here from 1991 to 1997, a fact reflected in his overwhelming 1994 re-election margin.
But fond memories of Weld’s thoughtfulness and wit shouldn’t obscure the fact that with the exception of that stint on Beacon Hill, his political career has been a string of disasters.
His 1978 run for attorney general ended in crushing defeat. So did his challenge to Sen. John Kerry in 1996, his run for governor of New York in 2006 (where he didn’t even make the ballot), and his head-scratching run for vice-president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 2016, which climaxed with Weld essentially endorsing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
With Weld, it’s often hard to gauge the precise mix of ambition with delusions of grandeur.
In 1997 when he abruptly quit the governorship so he could head to Washington to “fight” for his politically-doomed nomination as US Ambassador to Mexico, I attended a press conference Weld held on the front steps of the State Department. People around the country were “furious,” Weld alleged, over the blocking of his appointment by GOP conservatives who had long detested Weld as a grandstanding relic of a bygone Republican era of Brahmin moderates.
I wondered just how “furious” he thought they were. Did he think his nomination was among the top 10 topics on the minds of most Americans? “No,” he conceded. How about the top 25? “No.” The top 100?
Which brings us to today, with Weld fantasizing about making waves as an insurgent Trump challenger within the GOP.
And I have yet another annoying question: where will his votes come from?
Let’s focus on New Hampshire, where Weld owns a home and, presumably, there are some folks still around who remember who he was. NH Republicans overwhelmingly support Mr. Trump. NH Libertarians are more likely to revile Weld for breaking his promise to remain a Libertarian than they are to support him. And while NH Democrats represent a vast pool of Trump loathing, they cannot vote in the Republican primary.
But what if the president’s political standing craters over the next year, due to a scathing Mueller report or a catastrophic blunder (or blunders)? Watch for a slew of GOP challengers to respond, perhaps including former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and/or yet another relentlessly ambitious former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.
Bill Weld is a fine fellow, and I will always have fond memories of the classic line he uttered after the Democratic House voted down an initiative he favored: “You can lead the House to water, but you can’t make it think.”
But this latest quixotic effort to sell people something there’s zero evidence they want? Hopeless, and more than a little bit sad.