Opinion

How Bill Weld betrayed libertarians

What on Earth is he doing talking up Hillary Clinton?

As if this horrid presidential election wasn't bizarre enough already, Bill Weld, the vice presidential candidate on Gary Johnson's Libertarian Party ticket and the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, went on The Rachel Maddow Show this week and made a solid case against Donald Trump and for Hillary Clinton.

Maybe Gary Johnson's biggest blunder this election season wasn't his infamous "Aleppo" moment. Maybe it was picking Weld as veep.

A running mate has only two jobs during an election: Dissing the other candidates and shilling for his own. (Just look at poor Mike Pence going around debasing himself and calling Donald Trump "a good man," refusing to even acknowledge that Trump called Mexicans "rapists" and women "pigs.") This job is important for all veeps, but doubly so for third-party tickets given that they don't have a lock on any major media and can't count on any automatic support or attention. They have to fight for both, and have only their own inner resources to rely on.

But even as many conservative newspapers, such as the Detroit News (where I used to work) and the Chicago Tribune, despairing at their party's nominee, have endorsed Johnson-Weld as the only honorable choice this election, Weld has all but endorsed Clinton.

Weld has always been a #NeverTrumper. He has called Trump a "chaos" candidate "without parallel," someone who makes him fear for the future of the country because of all the hatred he stirs up. These assertions are objectively true — and appropriate coming from the mouth of a rival candidate.

But Weld took the strange step last week of issuing a campaign statement — followed by a press conference — urging Republicans not so much to vote for Johnson, but against Trump. The eyebrows he raised among libertarians had barely dropped when he went on MSNBC on Tuesday and acted more like Clinton's veep than Johnson's. Weld said he had known Clinton for 40 years. He praised her as a "reliable and honest person" — which insults everyone's intelligence given her long-standing difficulties with the truth. But what was even more cringe-inducing than what Weld said was what he didn't say. Not a word against Clinton's plans to raise the federal minimum wage to $15. Or reform ObamaCare by creating a public option to compete with private insurance plans. Or her hawkish neo-conservative foreign policy. Or expensive plans to offer everyone free college. Or any of the million Big Government things that gall libertarians about Clinton.

To the contrary, when Maddow asked Weld if there was any argument he could make to persuade voters in swing states to vote for the Libertarian Party and help it draw the 5 percent vote it needed to qualify as a minority party and receive federal funds — and easier ballot access — in future elections, how did Weld respond? He damned Johnson with faint praise —regurgitating bloodless bromides about how libertarians are fiscally responsible and socially tolerant — and then changed the subject to Clinton again. "I'm here vouching for Mrs. Clinton," he cooed. "I think she deserves to have people vouch for her other than members of the Democratic National Committee."

This is ungrateful and irresponsible.

Johnson stuck with Weld despite massive opposition from his party. Weld has not returned the favor. Indeed, delegates at the Libertarian Party convention were on the verge of electing another candidate as Johnson's running mate because they were unimpressed with Weld's libertarian bona fides — and with good reason, it turns out.

As my Reason colleague Jesse Walker has noted, for a brief moment in 1991, Weld became a poster boy for libertarians who wanted to work for Republicans because he was a pro-gay, pro-choice governor who talked a good game on fiscal responsibility. But then he let state spending run up on his watch and turned into a law-and-order candidate who was squishy on gun rights and easy on the use of eminent domain. Libertarians rightfully soured on him.

Yet Johnson made a strong pitch for him at the convention, no doubt because he hoped that Weld's policy chops, superior articulation skills, and fundraising prowess would strengthen the ticket. In fact, even Weld's "impurity" was possibly an asset in that it would generate media interest and help mainstream the LP.

The Libertarian Party was never going to win. However, it had a rare opportunity to propel itself from the margins and become a political force to be reckoned with. But thanks to Johnson's gaffes and Weld's apostasy, things haven't worked out that way.

Weld was a good gamble — but his Clinton-hugging is just a bad joke, which is a pity for his adopted party, his candidate, and the country.

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