This is IJR’s third segment of The 2020 Twenty. We’re asking every 2020 presidential candidate 20 questions on their plans, policies, outlook, and background as well as some lighter ones to help our readers get to know the people and their personalities as they compete to run the country.
There are several Republicans who have criticized President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, but former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is the only candidate trying to stop the president from the same side of the aisle.
The 2020 election will not be the first time Weld’s name will appear on a ballot against Trump. In 2016, he ran on the Libertarian Party ticket as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson’s vice presidential pick.
While Weld is attempting to be on the top of the ticket this time, he’ll carry many of his libertarian tendencies with him, striking a policy contrast with the president on several issues, including abortion, marijuana, and trade. As Weld told IJR, he hopes the Republican Party is ready to trade in Trump’s “simplistic policies” for a rebirth of fiscal conservatism.
1. As president, what would be your day one, number one priority?
Bill Weld: I would file legislation to cut spending. I think the president and Congress have not shown any interest in being an economic conservative, and that would be a marker I would want to throw down on day one.
2. You were named the most fiscally conservative governor in the U.S. when you served the people of Massachusetts. For the first time in history, the national debt now tops $22 trillion. How would you address this?
Well, I would do a zero-based review of the entire budget. That’s what we did at the state level, and you have to, instead of assuming that the appropriation for next year’s is going to be last year’s plus 5 percent — which is what they assume in Washington — you analyze it to make sure every appropriation stands on its own footing and is justified by the results of that program or item last year.
For example, if it was a very successful preventive health measure that saved a lot of money and improved health outcomes, you might multiply it by five because it did great work, great outputs. But if it was just a useless piece of bureaucracy based on some long-forgotten relationship with a senator whose nephew was the initial executive director, you might just zero that out. And that’s how you get to cut spending.
3. You worked in the House during the Watergate investigations and served with the U.S. attorney general later in your career. Several 2020 Democrats believe Trump should be impeached following the findings of the Mueller report. Do you agree?
I think that the Mueller report made out 10 pretty clear examples of obstruction of justice. You may have noticed that over 1,000 former federal prosecutors, myself included, signed a letter stating that the president was clearly guilty of obstruction of justice based on Volume II of the Mueller report, and it wasn’t even a close case.
Given that, I think it’s time — maybe even past time — to launch an inquiry into whether impeachable conduct has occurred. That’s not the same as saying the House should take a vote tomorrow. The investigation by the House Judiciary Committee into President [Richard] Nixon took 10 months. You know, that would bring us to April of next year. And even then, you don’t get a vote immediately in the Senate. The House appoints managers to conduct a trial in the Senate, so those proceedings likely would not even be over before the 2020 election.
However, to do absolutely nothing in the face of the conduct chronicled in the Mueller report seems, to me, an abdication of Congress’ role.
4. If you could get a drink with any previous president, who would it be?
Oh, my goodness, I guess Teddy Roosevelt, my former great-grandfather-in-law. His strenuous life is worth sampling over a glass of something. [Weld married Susan Roosevelt Weld in 1975. The two divorced in 2002. The governor later got remarried to writer Leslie Marshall Weld.]
5. While serving as governor, you completed 16 official trade missions, including trips to Asia and Latin America. How would you work to secure fair and free trade with our current partners?
I’m a free trader. And I believe that the United States always benefits from free trade. Among other things, our workers have, by far, the highest productivity of any country in the world. Even China is not close. So that means, by definition, we’re going to get the lion’s share of the high-wage jobs that come out of free trade. Jobs do change hands when countries engage in trade with one another. Some low-wage jobs go to the low-wage jurisdiction and vice versa, but the United States is always going to be a winner.
I do not share Mr. Trump’s view, which is for tariffs to be the first reaction. That was tried in the 1930s — the Smoot-Hawley tariffs — and it greatly exacerbated the depression of the 1930s. So I fundamentally disagree with the president on his approach to trade and tariffs, so I would go back to having free trade with everybody, and I certainly would want to have friendly relations with our military allies as opposed to insulting them and isolating them and favoring the autocratic countries and dictatorships such as Russia, North Korea, and the Philippines, and now Hungary, as Mr. Trump does.
Do you support any level of protectionism?
Well, I certainly think it’s the correct thing to do to take a hard line with China, as Mr. Trump is doing. I had high hopes for [Chinese President] Xi Jinping when he came into office that he might turn his country in the direction of a market economy, but after some good rhetoric at the outset, he’s newly reauthorized the state-owned enterprises to compete globally on the basis of huge subsidies from the government of China. That’s not fair trade, so I do think taking a tough line with China is the right thing to do.
6. You are a pro-choice Republican and have condemned the abortion restrictions in states like Georgia and Alabama.
The new anti-abortion laws recently passed in several states are deeply disturbing as they clearly undermine the rights and safety of women. The new laws actively promote a sinister culture of fear, persecution, stigmatization, secrecy and hiding. 2/4
— Gov. Bill Weld (@GovBillWeld) May 31, 2019
Do you believe there should be any government limits placed abortion in the U.S.?
Sure. I’m not for third-trimester abortions. No, I’m happy with Roe v. Wade. That essentially codifies the rule in common law. I just don’t think we should depart from that. To me, these new laws really involve the question of gender equality. If you say no abortions after six weeks and no exceptions for rape or incest — which several of those laws do — you know, at six weeks, many women will not know they’re pregnant, so that’s just saying “tough luck” if you get raped. You’ve got to carry the child to term for nine months. That’s just incorporating the view of women as carriers, what has sometimes been called the chattel theory of women. That cuts deeper.
7. What is a hidden talent that you have?
I can say the alphabet backward. It’s a good parlor trick, well hidden. It’s never been done.
8. Pro-gun groups like the NRA have criticized your support for gun control in the past. What measures would you take to cut gun violence in the U.S.?
I don’t think we want to focus on gun ownership. I do think that the 300 million rifles in private hands, lawfully acquired, constitutes a bulwark against a government overreaching. The real reason for the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights, in my judgment, is not so people can go hunting. It’s really so people will have the guns in self-defense.
All guns are dangerous. It’s not just a rifle with a tripod under it. All guns are dangerous, and to address the school shootings and terrible mass murders, one obvious thing is to do everything possible to keep firearms — of any sort — out of the hands of people who are unstable and have any history of mental illness.
When I got my first shotgun, I had to prove that I had taken a hunter’s safety course. I don’t think that’s any longer the case, but I think it was a good thing. In my case, it made me very careful about guns my whole life. So I have no quarrel with that sort of thing. But that’s really aiming at gun safety, not gun ownership. So I would be focusing on gun safety rather than gun ownership.
9. You have criticized Republicans for being silent on issues for which you believe Trump should be condemned.
"Republicans in Washington have become the silence of the lambs when it comes to Trump,” Weld said. “Hopefully we can show at least a few people that we’re not all a bunch of lambs.” #Weld2020 #Fitn #nhpolitics #iapolitics https://t.co/PVHQC12I6q
— Gov. Bill Weld (@GovBillWeld) April 24, 2019
How are you planning on convincing other Republicans to speak out against the president?
I’ll continue to speak out when I see something that I think is off. I think the conduct in the Mueller report was definitely off. I think the president’s evident preference for dictators and autocratic forms of government, as opposed to our constitutional democracy, is very troubling. So whether or not Republicans in Congress are persuaded, I’m going to continue to speak my mind.
10. What is your favorite show to binge watch?
“House of Cards.”
11. What role do you believe the government plays in addressing climate change?
I think we need to take steps to reduce CO2 emissions by 2030 and 2050. I think we should be cooperative with other countries. I think we should rejoin the Paris accord. I think we want to look at our energy mix. I agree with those who say that we want the most possible wind and solar power. In the Northeast United States, of course, we have Canadian hydro as well.
I personally think that we need more nuclear power than we have now. Perhaps 25 percent of the base in our electric grid. The sharpest drop in CO2 emissions ever recorded is when France moved to small nuclear plants in approximately the 1980s. And the small nukes now make up 75 percent of the power in France’s grid. They’ve never had an accident, and their CO2 record is pristine as a result. So I think we should do that as well. That goes directly at climate change because it goes directly at CO2 emissions. There are none from nuclear power.
12. Do you support recreational marijuana legalization?
Well, I think it’s a states’ rights issue. You know, if Alabama, for example, did not want to have legal recreational marijuana, that’s fine. I think it should be state-by-state. I just don’t think the federal government should mandate one-size-fits-all, either negative or positive.
And, by the way, that’s the position that candidate Trump took in 2016, that legal recreation should be a states’ rights issue. And I’d like to see him return to that position.
13. Republicans failed to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2017 and haven’t done much to address the issue since. What is your plan to address health care in the U.S.?
I think we need less government in the health care system. I think individuals should have their own tax-advantaged health savings accounts so that they can save up for the amount of protection that they wanted.
One problem with the Affordable Care Act is that it mandates that everybody have a Cadillac plan, and that makes it much more expensive. And many people don’t want a Cadillac plan. They’re comfortable with a Chevy. It’s just like buying insurance. Some people want a high deductible to cut the upfront cost of insurance. Other people can’t afford to do that because they can’t expose themselves to any risk, so they want no deductible, which makes it more expensive. But that’s the individual choice. And individuals don’t get that much choice under the ACA, it’s all mandated by the government.
And a lot of the government mandates make no sense. Why should it be illegal to buy health insurance across state lines? Why should it be illegal to buy pharmaceuticals from another country, such as Canada? Those are just incorporations of protectionism and the guild mentality of centuries past and don’t really make modern-day sense. So I’d do away with them. Again, more power to the individual.
14. What is your favorite vacation destination?
The Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. We have a fishing camp up there.
15. You’ve said you have a “very different view of immigrants” than President Trump.
— Gov. Bill Weld (@GovBillWeld) May 23, 2019
What steps do you believe should be taken to improve the immigration process in the U.S.?
Well, I think we should have more work visas, not less. Enforce them but have them available. We should have a guest worker program similar to Canada’s where people come and work for four months of the agricultural season or the construction season. That’s what people do in the western part of the United States. And then they go home because they don’t want to live in the United States. They just want to make enough money to send remittances to their families, and then they go home.
And I think the whole notion that the 11 million people who have overstayed their visas — so-called undocumented immigrants — a lot of those people just overstayed their visa. And to say all of them automatically have to get citizenship, that’s just crazy. I think that’s a straw man that those who want to inveigh against immigrants in general throw up. It’s a false issue. I don’t think we need to even consider that.
Do you think a wall is necessary for a secure border?
No, not really. I mean, my best understanding is that the experts down there on the southern border say what you really need is more people, more agents, and more drones, which can do a lot of the sighting that a wall by itself doesn’t do. We already have plenty of wall down there, you know, so it’s just a question of the last mile or whatever it is that Mr. Trump is fixated on.
As a matter of fact, that big crisis about the national emergency powers, that was about a tiny amount of money, so that wall couldn’t have been very long. It’s just symbolic, and Mr. Trump likes to have these simplistic policies like “hoax“ for climate change and “wall” for immigrants. He made his first priority when he came into office, and even during the campaign, to try to make people nervous, even hateful, about any people from other countries. It’s sowing division and fear, which he thinks helps him politically. I find it a not very appealing approach to government.
16. The RNC and Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel haven’t exactly given you a warm welcome to the race.
Today at #CPAC, @GOPChairwoman was asked about a @GOP primary to @realDonaldTrump . In a stunning reversal of past party practice of honoring neutrality in primaries, she declared her endorsement of Donald Trump, asking why any Republican would run against the President. pic.twitter.com/LPYdR9ZhO5
— Gov. Bill Weld (@GovBillWeld) March 1, 2019
Do you think the Republican Party should be doing more to support ideological diversity?
You know, I don’t expect to be welcomed by the Trump organization. People say to me: How are you going to make inroads with the Republican state committees? Well, I’m not because they’re the Trump organization in each state. I’m really not going to try to charm them because that’s not going to happen. I’m going to try to persuade more people to vote in the Republican primaries and to enlarge the electorate so that more young voters vote, so that more suburban women vote, and that would be my path to victory. Not suddenly persuading the Republican state committees to change their mind.
17. What is your favorite movie?
I like the sort of soft sci-fi like “Men in Black,” there’s a movie called “[The Adventures of] Buckaroo Banzai [Across] the 8th Dimension.” Another one called “Repo Man.” I see a new “MIB” is coming out. I can’t wait to see that.
18. Right now, the U.S. is facing conflict in Iran, China is stealing our intellectual property (IP), Russia meddles in our elections, and North Korea continues to toy around with rockets. What do you see as the biggest foreign policy threat facing the United States today?
I belong to a group of former world leaders [the InterAction Council], and they conclude that the biggest threat to the world is the risk of nuclear proliferation. So I would be spending a lot of time on North Korea, which has a rather unsteady finger on the trigger. And I would enlist the help of China in addressing issues on the Korean Peninsula. So that would probably be number one. The Russians interfering in everybody’s elections, particularly ours, is outrageous. That would be number two.
China stealing our IP is something I’ve been making noise about for a long time, and I just think we have to tell them in the trade negotiations that this theft of our intellectual property has to stop. That’s a condition of trade concessions in other areas, if you will. You know, unless they do that, no one is going to want to invest in China anymore, foreign investors, and it’s going to be very self-defeating for China. And I think we ought to be able to persuade them of that.
19. The next president would likely fill two Supreme Court seats. Would your picks differ from the types of justices chosen by Trump?
Well, I think both of his are good. And I wouldn’t confine myself to litmus tests. I probably wouldn’t confine myself to justices proposed by a single group, as Mr. Trump has done. But I thought [Justice Neil] Gorsuch, in particular, is a very bright, appealing judge. I would have supported both of the choices.
20. What is your favorite kind of music to listen to on the campaign trail?
I like country-rock. You know, the old-school Jesse Winchester. I love K.D. Lang of modern singers. I have pretty Catholic tastes in music. Both my wife and my son have a playlist of over 2,000 items, so we listen a lot at home and in the car.