April 23, 2019

Game on for GOP 2020 presidential race
Assessing the contest, possible entrants (updated)

We already know that President Donald Trump is running for re-election.

But he's now got one guaranteed opponent. And potentially two others.

Bill Weld formed an exploratory committee about a month ago, shortly after officially changing his party affiliation from Libertarian back to Republican after being that party's Veep nominee in 2016. And he's now officially entered. In ABC's report on his candidacy announcement, he made it clear he's targeting independent voters, whether ConservaDems or mild libertarians who can't swallow the Libertarian Party. He noted 20 states have open GOP primaries, including first-in-the-nation New Hampshire.

Problems exist, though. He really is a libertarian. or a liberal Dem, on social issues. More and more Republicans might be OK with him on marijuana, but not on abortion or gay rights.

Second, he's 73 years old, and looks every day of it at times per his picture, though he looks younger with a more subdued version of Trump's hair coloring. That said, he is a year older than Trump.

Third? He's been out of elective office for 20-plus years, and his last three campaigns — 1998 Senate in Massachusetts, 2006 Governor in New York and the 2016 race, the first as Republican nominee, the second as GOP primary candidate — have all been losses.

That said, even if some would hold their nose at his social libertarianism, there's a Never Trumper legion waiting for him. April 24, Weld wrote a column calling on Trump to resign. It ran in The Bulwark, a hodgepodge of primarily neocons left over from Bill Kristol's The Weekly Standard. In addition, polls continue to indicate dissatisfaction with Trump from both inside registered Republicans and independent conservatives. Of course, such polls, that don't list a named opponent, often are of little value.

Update, April 30: In a new interview with Reason's Matt Welch, Weld said he felt before the Mueller Report went public that Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice worse than Nixon's. He also chided Mueller (whom he hired as a deputy when he ran the criminal division of DOJ under Reagan) for relying on the old DOJ internal memo that a sitting president can't be indicted. (Sidebar: While in the Reagan DOJ, he thought Ed Meese should be prosecuted, and resigned in protest over Meese's conduct. So, he knows ethics issues.)

And? Weld called Trump a RINO! (He's wrong; fiscal irresponsibility was a hallmark of Reagan and Shrub Bush, even if Poppy tried to be realistic. That said, Poppy was closer to libertarian-lite than his son or St. Ronald were.)

Beyond that, he essentially called out both John Kasich and Larry Hogan for fence-sitting.

Update, Aug. 12: Weld is actually on the campaign trail in Iowa, even as Trump relies on cultish followers, the White House apparatus and Twitter to be a lazy ass.

Sadly, it appears that's going to remain the case. Kasich had previously disavowed making a 2020 run at Trump while not totally shutting the door on an independent bid. Could he decide to go the GOP route after all? (Update, June 27: As of the end of May, Kasich had all-but-totally ruled himself out.) Larry Hogan has never even followed through on ginned-up speculation.

Update, Aug. 15: Mark Sanford (really??) is drawing (or self-promoting) rumblings about entering. He's playing up the "real Republicans control spending" schtick (Reagan and Shrub didn't, as everybody knows. He has a self-imposed Labor Day decision deadline.

Being in the South, could he undercut Trump support there? Probably not much.

As for the Fox interviewer asking Sanford if he can do better than Weld in polling? Well, Weld would be better known if the Fellators at Faux actually wrote more about him. Since he's not a winger, fat chance of that. Note update directly above this. There's also been a lot less polling of Rethugs than of Democraps.

Besides, that's arguably a "glass half empty" at best, "lie" at worse, take. Real Clear Politics has Weld in double digits in many polls, despite minimal coverage. Maybe that will climb after his first Iowa visit.

Update, Aug. 22: Wingnut ex-Congresscritter Joe Walsh (a vote for him is a vote for Teh Stupidz, not the rock star), is reportedly going to jump in.

Of course, he does have egg to wipe off his face:



Next is the context.

This is the most serious intraparty challenge of an incumbent since at least 1992, when Pat Buchanan ran against Poppy Bush. And, while the U.S. was in a fairly mild recession, there was nothing else functionally wrong with the country, at least by Beltway steno eyeballs. Bush had won the Gulf War, seen the old USSR crumble into Evil Empire dust, and, while giving Beijing a pass over Tiananmen Square, hadn't screwed up anything else abroad. He did look a bit insensitive on the recession, but ... that could have been fixed.

But, for Buchanan, a man with no elected political experience but a Religious Right following, Bush needed to be challenged.

That said, Poppy Bush was not a great political campaigner. He'd shown that in spades in 1980.

Trump, on the other hand, while not a "conventional" Beltway-style politician, has strong, if crude, political strategery impulses.

OTOH, Never Trumpers have a fairly strong candidate in Weld.

Bill Weld is not THE most libertarian of libertarians on social issues, but he is far more of one there than Rand and Ron Paul. Given the Religious Right is totally in Trump's corner, running on fumes of high-octane hypocrisy, Weld has nothing to lose by calling the GOP to tolerance. As an economic libertarian, he can appeal to big biz types over Trump's undermining of the economy on trade issues, and probably on immigration as well.

That would leave room for Kasich, a strong social conservative without being a foaming warrior, to enter in on the other side, claiming he can feel blue collar workers' pain from within a Rust Belt state while more authentically walking the walk on social issues.

I don't think Weld alone can mount too serious a challenge to Trump, but I think he's smart to take himself back inside the GOP to do what he can. If he drew Kasich in, Trump would face a more serious challenge. The cult would still back him, but with nothing to lose, Weld and Kasich would both stay in the race as long as they had money and a ghost of a chance.

If Kasich did get in, it would be the most serious intraparty challenge of an incumbent since 1968, when Gene McCarthy, then Bobby Kennedy, both challenged LBJ before he withdrew. (Ted Kennedy challenging Jimmy Carter in 1980 is first in some ways, due to the strength of Kennedy as a challenger, but with the criteria of multiple semi-serious challenges to an incumbent president, you have to go back to 1968.)

That said, will that happen? I highly doubt it.

Social conservatives, even those with a fair degree of Trump loathing, remain afraid of the rank-and-file backing, and even more, afraid of the way many others have become toadies to Trump. Kasich is already being attacked by kiddie pool wingnut media for his response to the Mueller Report.

Would Kasich follow through on hints to run as the "mom and apple pie true GOP" independent candidate? I don't think there's more than a 10 percent chance of that. He is seven years younger than Weld and just left the office of Ohio governor. Unless he wanted to be a deliberate contrarian, he'll weigh his position within the GOP carefully. Walsh's entry probably won't swing him one way or the other, but Sanford might make it less likely.

That said, the trio of Welsh, Walsh and Sanford may collectively be fleas on the back of Trumpus Porcinus, but, per things happening in the Rust Belt and GOP rank and file discontent, they might draw enough votes to actually force him to work — and to force him into stupid enough intraparty comments that the risk of him losing Rust Belt undervotes in the general looms high.

Weld, on the other hand, has said he would "be flattered to be Kennedy to (Trump's) Carter," per a Fortune roundup of actual and potential candidates, quoting Rolling Stone.

So, enjoy Bill Weld while you can. Enjoy his campaign showing both the depth of Trumpism and the shallowness of actual libertarianism in today's GOP.

The Fortune piece says current Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan could also jump in. Hogan is a moderate, for a modern Republican, on some issues, though a social conservative overall. As a sitting officeholder in a state a bit more blue than Kasich's Ohio, but not as blue as Weld's Massachusetts, if he got in, but lost, and faced a shitload of Trump Train surrogate attacks, it could actually boost his chances for a future Senate bid or a 2024 presidential run.

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