DES MOINES — Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld said Sunday he’s “in it to win it” in his bid to wrest the 2020 Republican presidential nomination from Donald Trump and unify the nation rather than exploiting divides, as Trump is doing.
Weld told an Iowa State Fair soapbox audience that more is known about Trump and his style of governing now than when he took office in 2017, and the president’s direction on trade, finances, race, religion and social issues have put him out of step with most fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party.
“I kind of think it’s Mr. Trump who’s the RINO — the Republican in Name Only — because he’s not a fiscal conservative. He doesn’t believe in conserving the environment, he doesn’t believe in free trade, he doesn’t believe in all of the things that the real Republican Party used to stand for. So I’m unapologetic about challenging him here because I don’t think that he’s a real Republican,” he said.
Weld, 74, said he is used to running as an underdog, having faced an uphill climb in winning his first of two elections as governor as Massachusetts. He knows much of the GOP apparatus now is controlled by the Trump organization not eager to embrace an intraparty challenge to an incumbent.
“I think it’s like parades. I don’t know if being there helps you, but if you don’t it could hurt you,” an Iowa party chair said. The soapbox is part of the essence of the Iowa caucuses “just like showing up at chicken dinners and steak fries.”
The former Massachusetts governor said he is introducing himself as “a plausible contender” to Iowans who hold the first-in-the-nation caucuses Feb. 3, knowing that “if you don’t play in Iowa, you’re a dead person.” But he noted he is better known in the Northeast and has a strategy more heavily focused on scoring a surprise in New Hampshire’s opening 2020 primary.
“If you can knock off a sitting president in the New Hampshire primary, that president is wounded, to put it mildly, and who knows where it goes from there. There’s a momentum factor there, and I do think that’s doable,” he said in an interview.
Weld in 2016 was Gary Johnson’s running mate on the Libertarian Party ticket and noted “I’m not a stranger to the general precincts” in Iowa. He said he hopes to do well in six New England states, California, Oregon and Washington, as well as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and his native New York before challenging Trump in key Rust Belt contests.
Weld said he is getting involved in the 2020 campaign because he is troubled by Trump’s presidency and the way he is using the office to divide the nation and incite hatred and fear.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke recently announced about two dozen endorsements.
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“We’re all one country and we should feel that way,” he said. “We shouldn’t spend all of our time listening to someone trying to persuade us that some brown person is going to come across the Southern border, the Mexican border, and take our job, further kindling economic insecurity or harm our wife or children. It’s just demagoguery of the first order.”
A light summer mist fell during Weld’s soapbox appearance. It was in line with the rain on his parade he encountered from the party’s top Republican in Iowa, who said the governor’s libertarian brand of politics is out of step with most GOP members here, and he thinks that would show on caucus night.
“I would fully expect that Donald Trump will be the overwhelming winner with a scattering of other votes,” Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann said.
“It’s a huge mountain to climb, and the fact that Bill Weld has only been here once, my gut reaction is that at this point I think Iowa Republicans are going to feel that he’s just patronizing them,” Kaufmann said in an interview.
“If he shows up multiple times after this, then perhaps he becomes seen as a viable choice. As of right now, you can’t show up for one small speech at the State Fair and be seen as a serious candidate in Iowa.”
At the same time, Kaufmann said the party is committed to providing an open dialogue and an open caucus process that will culminate with the Feb. 3 straw-poll balloting at GOP precincts across Iowa.
Weld said he expected more Republicans to push back against Trump’s divisive rhetoric as the 2020 campaign unfolds or face defeat at the polls.
He said he plans to focus on issues such as economic inequality, the federal deficit, health care, personal freedom, defense, entitlements and other areas where younger people are getting left out of the discussion but will be expected to carry the financial burden in the future for policy decisions being made now.
“The American voters are very smart, and over time I’m hopeful that what I will sketch out is going to sink in,” he said.