“Because America deserves better.”
That’s the campaign slogan of Bill Weld, the former (1991-1997) governor of Massachusetts, who made it official last week. He is doing what other Republicans – congressmen, senators, governors – milquetoast politicians all of them, fear to do. He is challenging Donald Trump for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Weld knows he will not win the nomination. He is too old – 74 this summer, a year older than Trump. He is too “radical” for today’s Republican party. A fiscal conservative who favours deficit reduction, cutting spending and lower taxation, he is a progressive on social issues. He supports abortion rights, same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana. He argues the United States should rejoin the Paris accord on climate change.
In the Canadian context, Weld would be a Red Tory, an endangered political species in this era of conservative populism and a time of a disturbing uptick in reactionary rhetoric on issues of immigration and race.
Weld’s object is to expose Trump’s vulnerability by running strongly against him as the 2020 electoral season begins with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in February. If he can make Trump appear beatable, one of his more prominent critics – former Ohio governor John Kasich, perhaps, or Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse – may muster the courage to beard the president.
Although he is very much a maverick Republican – he endorsed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and he ran for vice-president on the Libertarian party ticket in 2016 – Weld is dead serious about getting rid of Trump. “I really think if we have six more years of the same stuff we’ve had out of the White House for the past two years, that would be a political tragedy, and I would fear for the Republic,” he told CNN. On MSNBC, he said, “Insulting our allies, eroding our military alliances abroad, cozying up to dictators—there’s no limit to the damage that can be done.”
As a profile in New Yorker magazine observes, he is targeting disillusioned Republicans who are as fed up with Trump’s feckless tax spending and policies as they are with his personality. He is also courting Independents and Democrats in the 20 states that permit crossover voting in their primaries.
His campaign slogan, “Because America deserves better,” is designed to attract disillusioned voters who feel something has gone horribly wrong since the Trump election in 2016.
It’s not just the Mueller inquiry or the Trump-friendly Russians who were intent on subverting that election. It’s not just allegations of obstruction or the packing of the federal cabinet with loyalists of dubious competence. It’s not just the alienation of America’s allies and supporters. It’s not even the ethics of the president in his business deals, his Twitter eruptions or his personal vulgarity.
All of these things – and more – contribute to Weld’s conviction that the American people deserve better.
Canadians can be thankful that the stench that pervades Trump’s Washington does not extend to our political system. Not yet, although warning signs are emerging.
They are visible in Ontario in the favouritism and bullying tactics of the Doug Ford administration. They are visible in Alberta where Jason Kenney and his new United Conservative government is setting out to dismantle just about every progressive program and policy introduced by Rachel Notley – not because they were wrong, but because they came from the New Democrats.
At the national level, the warning signs were certainly there throughout the miserable SNC-Lavalin affair. And they are only too apparent in nastiness being demonstrated by Conservatives and Liberals alike in the preliminary skirmishes of the October election campaign.
Unable to come up with constructive ideas of his own – such as a climate policy – Conservative leader Andrew Scheer relentlessly attacks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and everything he stands for. Unable to get his own message across, Trudeau attacks Scheer just as viciously.
Don’t Canadians deserve better than this ugly campaign? I would have thought so.