Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld announced his candidacy on Monday to challenge US President Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination.
Weld, 73, who served two terms as governor, from 1991-1997, enters as a long-shot candidate against an incumbent president who has remained popular within his party. Weld in February had said that he planned to challenge Trump.
“I really think if we have six more years of the same stuff we’ve had out of the White House the last two years that would be a political tragedy,” he said on CNN. “So I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t raise my hand and run.”
Weld has accused Trump of leaving the nation in “grave peril” and has said his “priorities are skewed towards promotion of himself rather than for the good of the country.”
Weld’s challenge marks the first against Trump by a member of his own party. Other Republicans have publicly flirted with their own challenges, including former Ohio Governor John Kasich, one of the many Republican candidates whom Trump defeated for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
But Republican leaders have signaled little tolerance for intra-party fights as Trump gears up for a potentially challenging bid for a second term. Trump’s campaign has taken extraordinary steps in cementing control over the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the broader nomination process as it seeks to minimise the risk of any potential challenger doing the same to the president. His campaign recently reported raising $30m in the first quarter of this year, while Democrats are raising less money than in previous cycles.
“Any effort to challenge the president’s nomination is bound to go absolutely nowhere,” the RNC said in statement responding to Weld’s announcement, noting that its operation and the Republican Party are firmly behind Trump.
Weld, a former prosecutor and the vice presidential candidate in 2016 on the Libertarian ticket, has been a consistent critic of Trump. He told CNN that he does not plan to mount an independent bid if unsuccessful.
Fiscally conservative but socially liberal, Weld is known for an unconventional, at times quirky, political style and a long history of friction with the party he now seeks to lead.
Weld endorsed Democrat Barack Obama over Republican nominee John McCain in 2008, later saying it was a mistake to do so, and has enjoyed a decades-long friendship with the Clintons, which began early in his career when he served alongside Hillary Clinton as a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate proceedings.
Weld’s nomination by former President Bill Clinton to be US ambassador to Mexico touched off a bitter public spat with then-Senator Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican from South Carolina who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Years earlier, Weld was among a handful of top Justice Department officials to resign in protest over alleged ethical violations by then-Attorney General Ed Meese, long a favourite of conservatives.
With little in the way of organisation or outside money, and at odds with a majority of Republican voters who solidly support Trump, Weld’s longshot campaign will target disaffected Republicans and independents who share his disdain for the president and embrace libertarian values of small government, free trade and free markets, and personal freedom.
Weld has not won a political race since being re-elected governor by a landslide in his heavily Democratic state in 1994. He was first elected to the office in 1990, defeating a conservative Democratic candidate, and quickly became one of Massachusetts’ most popular governors in recent history.
While holding the line on spending and taxes, Weld as governor embraced liberal positions at odds with national Republicans on abortion and gay rights. His low-key style and sharp wit also seemed to play well with voters as did his penchant for the unexpected: He once ended a news conference touting progress in cleaning up Boston’s polluted Charles River by diving fully clothed into the waterway.
A politician, federal prosecutor, investment banker, lobbyist and even novelist, Weld was a lifelong Republican before bolting the GOP to run on the Libertarian Party ticket with former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson in 2016.
Johnson and Weld received about 4.5 million votes, a little more than 3 percent of the national popular vote.
Despite a pledge to libertarians that he would remain loyal to the party going forward, Weld on January 17 walked into the clerk’s office of the Massachusetts town where he lives and re-registered as a Republican, adding to speculation that he would challenge Trump in the primaries.
Weld planned to kick off his campaign in New Hampshire, which holds an influential early nominating contest. He said the state’s voters would be receptive to his message and familiar with his record in neighboring Massachusetts.
“Right now, all there really is coming out of Washington is divisiveness,” he said on CNN, calling both parties responsible but pointedly adding, “the grand master of that is the president himself.”