Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld explores Trump challenge in 2020

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Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld (Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

While the 2020 Democratic field continues to burgeon with candidates, President Donald Trump could be facing at least one Republican primary challenger. Former 2016 Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate and former Republican Governor of Massachusetts Bill Weld announced on Friday that he will be launching an exploratory committee to pursue the Republican nomination.

The announcement comes on the day Trump is announcing a national emergency to build a border wall, a deeply unpopular move.  

Weld denounces Trump’s rhetoric in his announcement, stating,  “We cannot sit passively as our precious democracy slips quietly into darkness … each of us must also strive to remember and uphold the differences between the open heart, open mind and open handedness of patriotism versus the hard heart, closed mind and clenched fist of nativism and nationalism.”

Weld was a popular two-term governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997. Prior to that he led the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and was the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. Weld ran and lost a close race for Senate against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 1996.

His most recent foray into national politics was his run as vice presidential candidate to former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson on the Libertarian Party ticket in 2016. The ticket with Weld garnered 3.27 percent of the popular vote, significantly better than in 2012 when Johnson’s run didn’t pass 1 percent.

The campaign committee fundraised relatively well for a third-party, collecting almost $12 million. Most of the contributions, around $7.6 million, came from small dollar donors. The campaign’s largest contributor was the PAC Americans Deserve Better which gave $28,200. GTCR LLC, a private equity firm and Morning Star Company, a tomato grower, tied for second with $10,800 worth of contributions coming from each.

His pairing with Johnson was seen in 2016 as a way to reach out to Republican voters who were unhappy with candidate Trump.

A super PAC in support of the Johnson ticket, Alternativepac, spent more than $1.1 million in the 2016 campaign. The largest donors to the super PAC were from Chris Rufer, founder of Morning Star, with $550,000. The biggest organizational donation came from Harmon Brothers, the marketers behind the Squatty Potty device, with $329,000.   

Weld may have some friends in high places from his days in the Justice Department. The only federal political contributions Special Counsel Robert Mueller ever made were a combined $450 to Weld’s unsuccessful 1996 Senate campaign. Weld fundraised well in that campaign in a Democratic state, taking in more than $8 million to Kerry’s $12.7 million.

Currently, Weld is listed as a member of the Mintz Levin law firm and a principal at the spin-off ML Strategies firm where his biography states he “provides clients with counsel related to government strategies, litigation, and general business advice.”

Weld’s most recent political contribution was $500 to unsuccessful 2018 House candidate Peter Tedeschi. Weld made a $250 contribution to Neal Dikeman, the Libertarian candidate for the hotly contested Texas Senate seat of Sen. Ted Cruz. He also gave $650 to Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and $1,000 to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in the 2018 cycle. In 2015, he gave $1,000 to John Kasich’s presidential campaign.

Recent primary challengers to incumbent presidents have damaged the president in the general. In fact, the last three incumbents who faced a serious primary challenge lost in the general election — George H.W. Bush with Pat Buchanan in 1992, Jimmy Carter with Ted Kennedy in 1980 and Gerald Ford with Ronald Reagan in 1976.

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