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Bill Weld looking to ‘plant a flag’ in GOP challenge to President Trump

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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 — A former governor of Massachusetts is offering himself as a Republican alternative to President Donald Trump.

No, it’s not Mitt Romney.

Bill Weld has no illusions about winning the GOP nomination but says he’s running because it’s time for somebody to stand up and plant a flag.

“The flag is decency. The flag is integrity. It’s not an issue. It’s not free trade,” he told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Friday during a campaign stop in Utah. Weld was scheduled to tour the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center and visit Utah Valley University.

Weld sees Utah among the top three states (behind Vermont, ahead of Massachusetts) where he could pick up votes in a primary election. He managed 9% of the vote in the New Hampshire GOP primary but failed to reach the threshold required to win any delegates. In Iowa, he secured one delegate with 1.3% of the vote.

A two-term governor in Massachusetts in the 1990s, Weld considers himself a “reputable” alternative to Trump. He’s “economically conservative and socially welcoming.” He opposes running up the national debt. He said he cares about clean air and clean water. Separating people out by group or religion isn’t good for the country, he said.

Trump and White House strategist Steve Bannon want to “stir up the pot” in a divisive way for political gain, Weld said.

“The president has said that if he is not reelected, we will have a civil war,” Weld said. “That’s really waving the bloody shirt. I mean, those are fighting words.”

Weld said he hopes the president won’t go into payback mode as Bannon has stated for the next four years if he is reelected. “But I think they would,” he said.

After flirting with the Libertarian Party as Gary Johnson’s presidential running mate in 2016, the 74-year-old Weld returned to the Republican Party for a go at Trump.

“This time I wanted the direct, nonspoiler shot at Mr. Trump. I didn’t want any misunderstanding as to my intentions,” he said, noting the criticism he and Johnson took four years ago.

Still, he could see a circumstance that would drive him back to the Libertarians or another third party.

“If the Republican Party, after the 2020 election, is 100% people who will approach public decisions in the same way that the Republicans in the U.S. Senate approached the vote on impeachment, then I would probably not be associated with that party,” he said. “But I don’t think I would ever be a Democrat.”

(Weld sent Romney a note congratulating him on voting to remove Trump and telling him his father would have been proud.)

Asked why he could never be a Democrat, Weld winced and sighed. But could he get behind a Democrat for president in an election against Trump?

“Yeah, name one,” Weld said before allowing, “A couple would give me a little trouble.”

People are “petrified” that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic nominee and lose to Trump, he said.

When the discussion turns to the national debt and balancing the federal budget, Weld noted that President Bill Clinton eliminated the deficit.

“If all the Democrats were like Bill Clinton, I could be a Democrat,” Weld said.