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Why GOP underdog Bill Weld shows no signs of giving in

GOP presidential candidate Bill Weld thinks the country could use a few more Barry Goldwaters in the Senate. “Seems to be we have only one; Mitt Romney.”

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld meets with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Why is Bill Weld still running for president? The GOP’s other candidate has just one delegate to his name. His campaign is bankrupt. And recent polls show just 5% of Republicans prefer the former governor of Massachusetts.

Yet on the eve of Super Tuesday, when 833 delegates are at play in 14 states — including 40 in Utah — Weld shows no signs of giving in.

Neither do his volunteers.

Last week, a group of supporters called Weld 2020 on Facebook held an open phone conference to organize grassroots efforts ahead of Super Tuesday. Richard Fast, an enthusiastic 28-year-old volunteer from California, led the call, loosely following parliamentary procedure. Three campaign staffers and eight volunteers also introduced themselves. If others participated, they remained incognito.

The callers were hopeful and hungry to pitch in. A speech writer from Pennsylvania said, “I think Gov. Weld can do some damage here.” A volunteer from Oregon asked how the campaign was using social media to reach younger voters. The officials said the campaign had just started a TikTok account.

For an hour and 45 minutes, the callers shared ideas and asked how to sign up to call voters and talked about the best practices for those calls. They were excited about a new rule in California that lets voters change their party affiliation on the day of the primary, which allows independents to vote Tuesday.

If Fast or anyone else on the call was disappointed by the low turnout, no one let on.

Still, no amount of optimism will change reality. President Donald Trump has more than 90% approval among Republicans and massive financial support. So why is Weld holding on?

Weld, 74, once the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee, insists that he’s running to win, believing the country needs him. Though when pressed last week in a visit to the Deseret News, he said he was there to “plant a flag” for decency.

“The poisonous relationships between the two parties in Washington have to be untangled,” Weld says.

Supporters, on the other hand, may have a different motivation, as Fast told the Deseret News the day after the phone conference. “I think most people who vote for Gov. Weld are not doing it because they expect him to win. Rather, they do it because they want to signal to their state party that Trump does not represent them and they want the Republican Party to go in a different direction.”


Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld meets with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Never tell me the odds

The Republican Party has distributed 87 delegates from Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. President Trump has earned 86 of those and is well on his way to the 1,276 he’ll need to secure the nomination.

The incumbent won the Iowa Caucus with 97.1% support to Weld’s 1.3%. Weld performed better in the New Hampshire primary, with 9.1% to the president’s 85.6%. (The South Carolina and Nevada Republican parties canceled each state’s primary.)

A recent Gallup poll shows 93% of Republican think the president is doing a good job. An Economist/YouGov poll taken last month showed 90% of Republican primary voters would vote for Trump. Five percent said they would vote for Weld.

In terms of fundraising, the Trump campaign had amassed a war chest of $92,606,794 before the Iowa caucus.

Meanwhile, Weld’s campaign was in the red, according to the Federal Election Commission. As of Jan. 31, Weld 2020 Presidential Campaign Committee, Inc. had $18,190 cash on hand and owed the candidate a quarter-million dollars. This past week, the candidate has focused on the Northeast, because the campaign couldn’t afford to send him to western states like Utah and California, where he thinks he could give the president a fight.

That optimism arises from the voters Weld has met on the campaign trail who are looking for a centrist. He believes they want the GOP to operate on principle. Traditional values. Fiscal prudence. Conservatism. Inclusion. Protecting the environment (“That’s a conservative principle,” Weld adds). Engaging with the world and avoiding isolationism. Global trade free of tariffs and sanctions. Responsibly attacking climate change. Educating the American workforce that will lose their job to artificial intelligence in the next decade.

“Those are all things Washington should be doing, and they’re not,” the candidate said in a phone interview while campaigning in snowy Vermont ahead of Super Tuesday. “There’s work to be done and the people in Washington are not doing it.”

But the results so far don’t match Weld’s assessment of the country, as each party’s most polarizing candidate — Trump and Bernie Sanders — is currently in the lead.

Weld had one small victory last week, when he was endorsed by the editorial board of The Boston Globe — which once ran a fake Sunday front page warning against a Trump presidency. The board described Weld as “an astute, able, and affable former prosecutor and Massachusetts governor whose nomination would help restore principle and probity to the GOP.”

“If a Republican Rip Van Winkle had dozed off during Ronald Reagan’s presidency to wake during President Trump’s, he would no longer recognize his party,” the board continued.

‘We need more Goldwaters’

Weld believes the Republican Party is losing its way, remaking itself in the image of a former outsider candidate who now occupies the White House after surviving impeachment, and he sees his campaign as a bulwark against that change.

“I think the Republicans might lose the Senate in November of this year anyway, as a result of their votes to acquit Mr. Trump, without holding trial or hearing any evidence which they’re required to do under the constitution,” Weld said.

The last time a Republican president faced impeachment, Weld, who is an attorney, served as a member of the U.S. House of Representative’s Impeachment Inquiry counsel.

“I saw this happen in the case of the Nixon impeachment,” said Weld. “Republicans defended him all summer long and said there was not enough evidence that he knew about the Watergate conspiracy. And then Watergate tapes came out showing he was in charge of it the whole time.”

During the final moments of Richard Nixon’s presidency, Republicans thought wavering in their loyalty to the president meant political suicide. For at least one who, it wasn’t.

In the summer of 1974, Sen. Barry Goldwater — “the father of American conservatism,” according to the Washington Times — was aware his Republican constituents in Arizona still supported President Richard Nixon. 

“He has been guilty of many mistakes in my judgment but I don’t think he is a criminal,” one Phoenix resident penned in a letter to the senator, encouraging Goldwater to continue to fight for the president.

But after the release of the most damning of the Watergate cover-up tapes, Goldwater could no longer stand up for Nixon. 

Weld thinks the country could use a few more Barry Goldwaters in the Senate. “Seems to be we have only one; Mitt Romney.”

Last month the Utah senator — also a former Massachusetts governor — was the sole Republican to vote to convict Trump of abuse of power after he was impeached by the House. That drew both praise and condemnation in Utah. Trump was acquitted of both charges along partisan lines.

Fast doesn’t need Weld to go that far. He’s just glad to have a choice on Tuesday. “It is a matter of principle in that a functioning democracy allows voters to choose which path they think is best. That only works if more than one name is on the ballot.”