Bill Weld, the first — and now lone — Republican candidate challenging President Donald Trump, has been notching some high-profile endorsements ahead of the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.
The list of titles includes congressmen, governors, and state Republican party chairmen. They also all include one additional adjective: “former.”
Weld says it’s a trend that’s more reflective of the state of the Republican Party than it is of his own shoe-string campaign.
The former Massachusetts governor has struggled to get support from elected Republicans in his long-shot campaign against Trump, which he announced last April. Trump’s most vocal critics in the Senate — from Sen. Mitt Romney to Sen. Susan Collins — have not weighed in on the race. Even Gov. Charlie Baker, who has called Weld a “mentor” and often criticized Trump, is watching the from the sidelines.
“It shows that, like the Republican senators in Washington, everyone is fearful of Mr. Trump’s vindictiveness,” Weld told Boston.com over the phone Sunday night. “It’s simply fear.”
The Canton resident alluded to a recent New York Times essay from Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, who said his Republican colleagues privately admitted fear that if they broke party ranks in the president’s impeachment trial that they would consequentially face a Trump-backed primary challenger, like his most vocal GOP critic in Congress, former Rep. Mark Sanford, who briefly embarked on a 2020 presidential primary bid of his own after losing his seat in 2018. Many of the Republican president’s other GOP congressional critics have opted to leave office on their own accord — or the party itself. In fact, Weld himself did so briefly to run as the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee in 2016.
But in the wake of Trump’s retributive actions against impeachment witnesses last week, the 74-year-old says the lack of elected support for his 2020 bid “says something about the people who are fearful of the president, but it says even more about the president.”
“The president has shown that he is willing to try to reach out and destroy people, including individuals who have no power over him, just because they said something or did something that he felt was an attack on him,” Weld said. “It can be an individual with no political power whatsoever, and he’ll try to destroy the person. That’s how his mind works. That’s how his character works”
The libertarian-leaning former governor has focused his anti-Trump bid on New Hampshire, arguing for fiscal conservatism and for Trump to be removed from office over his repeated lies and charges of abuse of power.
Weld says he recently began courting former colleagues, sympathetic to his views, for their public support. Within the last two weeks, his campaign has rolled out a series of endorsements from former Republican elected officials, both across the country and in the Granite State.
His backers include five former GOP congressmen — Iowa Rep. Jim Leach, Pennsylvania Rep. William Clinger, Wisconsin Rep. Tom Petri, California Rep. Steve Kuykendall, and New Jersey Rep. Dick Zimmer — as well as two former governors, New Mexico’s Gary Johnson (who was Weld’s running mate in 2016) and New Jersey’s Christine Todd Whitman.
Last week, Weld’s campaign also announced the additions of former New Hampshire House Speaker Doug Scamman, his wife and former state Rep. Stella Scamman, and former New Hampshire GOP chair Fergus Cullen to their steering committee.
“Not every Republican has abandoned our core principles of fiscal conservatism, limited government, and believing that character matters,” Cullen said in a statement Monday, calling himself a “traditional Republican.”
“I supported candidates including Reagan, the Bushes, McCain, and Romney,” Cullen said. “But the current President is unfit for the office he holds. If you want to send a message that you’re not OK with the tone of this administration or with having a President who lies constantly and divides our country, then I urge my fellow Republicans to cast a principled vote on Tuesday for Governor Bill Weld. ”
The New Hampshire Republican Party and Republican National Committee did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
It remans unclear how many Republican primary voters will actually back Weld. Even in the Granite State, Weld’s poll numbers have struggled to crack into double digits. Meanwhile, Trump’s national approval ratings — while underwater among all voters — have ranged around 90 percent among Republican primary voters. Perhaps reading the writing on the wall, prominent “Never Trump” Republican activists in New Hampshire recently began urging right-leaning independents to instead vote for a “responsible and electable” candidate on the Democratic side of the state’s open primary elections.
For his part, Weld rejects the notion that his lack of endorsements from sitting Republican officials reflects upon his own campaign.
“It doesn’t reflect on us,” he said. “It reflects on President Trump and the other people who are refusing to do their constitutional duty because of pure fear. They should resign if they can’t do their duty. Honestly.”
As a federal prosecutor in the 1980s, Weld even walked the walk, resigning from the Justice Department over objections to Attorney General Ed Meese’s lack of ethics at the time.
Weld said Sunday that there are more endorsements of his 2020 campaign to come from “former officials.” Weld said he has gotten a few endorsements from currently elected “minor legislators in various places,” though neither he nor his campaign provided any specific names. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a fellow socially liberal Republican, did indicate last May that he would vote for Weld over Trump.
The former governor says he has received private encouragement from some elected Republicans who say “keep on doing what you’re doing.” Weld then paraphrased an old joke by Robert F. Kennedy.
“We’re behind you, Bill,” he said. “Way behind.”