Politics & Policy

Can Bill Weld Restore Conservatism?

Bill Weld speaks at a Johnson-Weld campaign rally in N.Y., 2016. (Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

This,” exclaimed Margaret Thatcher, thumping Friedrich Hayek’s 500-page tome The Constitution of Liberty on a table in front of some Conservative Party colleagues, “is what we believe.” It also is what Bill Weld believes, which is why he aspires to be the Libertarian party’s 2020 presidential candidate.

The former twice-elected Republican governor of Massachusetts has been visiting Libertarian party state conventions and will be in New Orleans at the national convention from June 30 to July 3. There he will try to convince the party, which sometimes is too interested in merely sending a message (liberty is good), to send into the autumn of 2020 a candidate representing what a broad swath of Americans say they favor — limited government, fiscal responsibility, free trade, the rule of law, entitlement realism, and other artifacts from the Republican wreckage.

Once when a Democrat noted that Weld’s ancestors had arrived on the Mayflower, Weld replied, “Actually, they weren’t on the Mayflower. They sent the servants over first to get the cottage ready.” He was the 19th Weld — the first was in the Class of 1650 — to graduate from Harvard. Since then, the 20th and 21st have attended — two of the five children he had with his first wife, Theodore Roosevelt’s great-granddaughter. Two Harvard buildings are named for Welds. One of which John Kennedy lived in as a freshman.

Bill Weld, who majored in classics, took philosophy classes from Robert Nozick, whose Anarchy, State and Utopia, a canonical text of libertarianism, argues that “the minimal state is inspiring as well as right.” Weld served in Ronald Reagan’s administration for seven years, five years as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. He was recommended for this position by then-associate U.S. attorney general Rudy Giuliani, which was not Weld’s fault. Next, Weld was head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. There he brought from San Francisco, as his replacement in Massachusetts, a man “who might be the straightest guy I’ve ever met,” Robert Mueller.

Weld’s sandy-reddish hair is still abundant and, at 72, he is eager to build on his 2016 experience as the Libertarians’ vice-presidential nominee. During that campaign, “I carried around with me every day” the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Noting that the Articles of Confederation excellently referred to powers not “expressly” delegated, Weld says, “I might have been an anti-Federalist.” Imagine having a president who knows that there were anti-Federalists.

The top of the Libertarians’ 2016 ticket was another ex-governor, New Mexico’s Gary Johnson, who was too interested in marijuana and not interested enough in Syria to recognize the name Aleppo. Weld, however, is ready for prime time.

During a recent breakfast at the Hay-Adams hotel across Lafayette Square from the White House (the Adamses reached these shores shortly after the Welds), Weld recalled how as governor he taught agencies to not expect “last year’s appropriation plus 5 percent.” He cut taxes 21 times and raised none. A believer in freedom for what Nozick called “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” Weld says his most satisfying achievement was cutting the 6 percent tax on long-term capital gains by 1 point for each year the asset is held.

If the florid face of today’s snarling GOP wants to be re-nominated, he will be. Five-hundred days into his presidency he had 87 percent approval among Republicans, 10 points above Ronald Reagan’s rating at 500 days. And in the autumn of 2019, upward of 20 Democratic presidential aspirants might clog the stages at “debates” that could become contests to see who can most arrestingly pander to activists — a disproportionate slice of the nominating electorate — who are enamored of “Medicare for all,” government-guaranteed jobs, and generally gobs of free stuff (college tuition, etc.).

If in autumn 2020 voters face a second consecutive repulsive choice, there will be running room between the two deplorables. Because of its 2016 efforts, the Libertarian party will automatically be on 39 states’ ballots this fall and has a sufficient infantry of volunteers to secure ballot access in another nine. So, if the Libertarian party is willing, 2020’s politics could have an ingredient recently missing from presidential politics: fun. And maybe a serious disruption of the party duopoly that increasing millions find annoying. Stranger things have happened, as a glance across Lafayette Square confirms.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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