For the past two years of his presidency, Donald Trump has been a mixed bag for libertarians. He’s accomplished several libertarian policy goals, often with the help of Senator Rand Paul. Among these are the passage of Right to Try legislation, the FIRST STEP Act, ending the personal health insurance mandate, passing tax reform, appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and his recent announcement of leaving Syria. With these moves, he’s won over many libertarians who were once skeptical.
Conversely, President Trump’s tenure has given many libertarians justification for their skepticism and reason to oppose the President in 2020. Trump has signed bills reauthorizing FISA Section 702, waged a trade war with China and several other countries, banned bump stocks, instituted his travel ban, and declared a national emergency to build a wall along the southern border without the approval or appropriation of funds from Congress. All of this has been done while the national debt has soared to $22 Trillion. Even with the good that President Trump has accomplished, these acts give libertarians reason to support a different candidate in 2020, if a better one presents itself.
Enter Bill Weld: the 2016 Libertarian nominee for Vice President, and former two-term Republican Governor of Massachusetts. His nomination in 2016 angered many libertarians for his endorsement of John Kasich in the Republican primaries, his record on guns and the Iraq War, and his general lack of actual libertarian credentials. While he had a good record on fiscal restraint, especially as the Governor of a liberal state like Massachusetts, there wasn’t much else to draw libertarians to him. Over the course of the general election, Weld carved an image for himself not as the stalwart libertarian the base wanted, but as a more moderate one, trying to appeal to disaffected Republicans and Democrats who felt the two major parties had become too extreme.
On February 15th, Bill Weld announced the formation of an exploratory committee to launch a primary challenge against President Trump. He’s the first major candidate to enter the race, with speculation that Governor John Kasich (R-OH) and Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) may jump in too. In his announcement, he seemed to continue his moderate libertarian streak. He called for expanding guest worker programs, legalizing medical marijuana, allowing the importation of prescription drugs, implementing a flat tax, abolishing the Department of Education and building upon the criminal justice reform of the FIRST STEP Act. He also mentioned the need to address the national debt and climate change, without giving many specifics as to how he would go about either.
While many libertarians may still be wary of Weld from the 2016 election, this platform does give a good start. With almost one year until the Iowa Caucus, Weld has time to define himself as a candidate. Governor Weld is not, and never will be, the pure libertarian that many libertarians will hope for. However, he has the potential to thread the needle between the different factions of anti-Trump groups: moderates who want someone capable of governing the entire country, libertarians who want someone to advance small government, and the establishment who wants a stable and respectable statesman.
Weld’s candidacy will by no means be an easy venture. Trying to hold these disparate factions of the GOP together will be hard, especially when the alternative is someone as unorthodox as Trump. In the case of foreign policy, Trump has begun to side with libertarians. In situations like these, Weld has to decide whether he will be reflexively anti-Trump and join with the interventionists in the establishment, or stay true to libertarian values and acknowledge agreement with the President on this point.
If the Governor’s goal is to win the nomination, he must also convince people already supportive of Trump that he would be as good on issues they care about. That will be hard to do when he’s previously run on being pro-choice, spoken positively of Hillary Clinton, endorsed Barack Obama, and said he would want Supreme Court Justices like Stephen Breyer and Merrick Garland. He will need to reverse these past actions and positions to get the support of the base. While this may make him seem like a flip-flopper, it should be noted that Trump was an anti-gun, pro-choice Democrat around the time Weld was Governor.
Releasing a list of potential Supreme Court picks, crafting a platform on gun rights, and fleshing out his foreign policy are three big planks that would provide a good litmus test for whether he will earn the support of libertarians. In this way, he can ease the minds of those skeptical of his past and start to create a new image for himself early on in the campaign.
Whether libertarians should support Weld is still up for debate. While Weld may not be a pure libertarian, neither is Trump. If he wants to earn the support of libertarians, he will have to answer for his past stances and give more concrete positions in order to overcome the current distrust that exists. Nevertheless, he has the potential to be a much better alternative, and libertarians should seriously consider his candidacy.