Tell Me More: A Republican Voice of Dissent

There needs to be a conservative alternative to Trump, says presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld in a Tufts podcast
A man speaking into a microphone. There needs to be a conservative alternative to Trump, says presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld in a Tufts podcast.
“The president has so divided the country that for the first time in my lifetime, people aren’t unified in thinking that it’s good to be an American,” said Bill Weld. Photo: Alonso Nichols
November 13, 2019

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Tell Me More is a Tufts University podcast featuring brief conversations with the thinkers, artists, makers, and shapers of our world. Listen and learn something new every episode. Subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play MusicSpotifyStitcher, and SoundCloud.

TRANSCRIPT

HOST: Welcome to Tell Me More, a podcast series featuring distinguished visitors to Tufts University who share their ideas, discuss their work, and shed light on important topics of the day.

In 1990, Bill Weld was elected governor of Massachusetts—the first Republican in twenty years to win election to that office. Prior to being elected governor, Weld served in the Reagan administration Justice Department, first as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts and then as Assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of the Criminal Division. Early in his career, he was a staff member on the House Judiciary Committee, where he assisted in the Watergate impeachment inquiry.

In 2016, Weld and Gary Johnson ran as third-party candidates in the presidential election, on the Libertarian ticket. Now a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, Weld visited Tufts recently as a participant in a Presidential Town Hall hosted by the Tisch College of Civic Life.

For this episode of Tell Me More, our interviewers are Tufts students who posed questions about the governor’s stance on immigration and impeachment and his plan to win the nomination. Let’s listen in.

GABY LEWIS: Hi, my name is Gaby Lewis and I’m a freshman. You’re one of the few Republicans that I’ve heard come out in favor of impeachment, and I’m wondering if you have any idea of what could possibly convince either the Republican elite and/or the Republican voters towards your side of this?

BILL WELD: Well, the question is, what could convince people to proceed with the removal of the president? Actually, two polls in the last ten days have shown that 51 percent of the people in the country are in favor of removal of the president. So that’s a short answer. If you want to know where the action is right now, the action is in those states where Republican senators—sitting senators—are up for re-election in 2020, because the Democrats would need 20 Republican votes in the Senate to get to 67 percent of those present and voting.

And so they’re now polling those districts and they must be very interested to see that the majority of their constituents want removal. And my sense is that as the evidence amassed by the House hits the wall—hits people’s consciousnesses—they read about it day after day, they maybe read a little bit about the law of impeachment, the way that the system of the tripartite division of functions is supposed to work, I think that that number 51 is likely to go up. If it gets to 60, that’s fatal.

And I’ll tell you why, because on so many of these issues, the two parties see things differently and on removal of the president—20 percent Republican, yes, 80 percent, no, on removal of the president; Democrats, it’s 90 something yes, something in the teens or 11 percent no; independents, 67 percent yes, 30 percent no. And you might say that could give aid and comfort to the Republicans because in their own party, only 20 percent of the people want the president to be removed. That’s not relevant because in order to get re-elected, they don’t have to win the primary; they have to win the general election.

So, if they’re looking at a general electorate where 60 percent of the electorate wants the president removed and they’ve not voted to remove the president, they lose that election. And I’m telling them that right on top of the table, and at least a dozen—maybe closer to 20 of these people—are friends of mine who I worked with over the years and they’re decent people. But they’ve either been hypnotized by the president or they’re so obsessed by getting re-elected that everything else bends to that. Or they have Stockholm syndrome, and they’re identifying with their captor. I don’t know what it is, and nobody can figure out what it is.

The one bright idea that has been suggested is: Why doesn’t Senator McConnell just have a little old straw poll? Just slide pieces of paper across the table. Just write down who you want here, and we’ll just take that into consideration, deciding how to proceed. It won’t be binding at all. If you had a secret ballot, former Senator Flake of Arizona says there’d be thirty-five votes to remove in that caucus. They just don’t dare say so one by one.

So, if somehow they could work out a mechanism for a secret ballot, and Mitch McConnell, who follows the election returns and guides his caucus and is responsive to his caucus, sees that there are twenty-five or thirty votes to remove, Mitch will say, “Well, why don’t we just have a secret ballot? Find out what we think and then we can go take the real vote. And once the secret ballot has been held and produces twenty, twenty-five, thirty votes to remove, the rest will be easy.” So there’s a lot of slippery slopes here for the president.

ALEX MURESIANU: I’m Alex Muresianu, I’m a junior here and I’m the VP of the college Republicans. So you said in an interview recently that you supported the provisions of the tax cut law from a couple of years ago—accelerated depreciation, because it increases incentives to invest in the United States. But a lot of those provisions are scheduled to expire very soon. So, would you support making those provisions permanent and expanding expensing?

WELD: Yeah, no, I’m a pro-growth economic conservative. And I like accelerated depreciation because if a business invests in an expensive piece of property—building the plant next door or an expensive piece of equipment—that, in my experience, has a multiplier effect on employment. It’s a jobs creator. It was actually my favorite part of the tax bill that passed back in 2017. I also cut taxes myself twenty-one times and never raised them, because I think it’s important for employers to know that taxes are a one-way ratchet.

And a lot of my tax cuts were not that big. They weren’t broad-based. They were a tax credit for an industry that I wanted to stimulate successfully, in the case of biotech and telecom and software. So, I would’ve voted for that tax bill. Could it have been a little bit less skewed in favor of the top wage earners? Sure. And I’m a refugee of New York. I lived there for the decade of the aughts and saw the private equity world at its highest frenzy. It’s not a pretty sight. It’s all about “Greed is good,” says Gordon Gekko in the movie, but a lot of people on Wall Street say and think that also.

I actually do worry about income inequality in this country right now, as a matter of social cohesion, because the president has so divided the country that for the first time in my lifetime, people aren’t unified in thinking that it’s good to be an American. A lot of people—some people, young people, don’t want to have children because they think that the landscape is so scary. So, I’m now recommending measures be taken to address income inequality, not simply as a moral matter—although you could certainly justify it on moral grounds—but also as a prudential matter to forestall revolutionary developments.

ALEX JANOFF:  I’m Alex Janoff. I’m a freshman. This upcoming election will be the first federal election that I’ll be eligible for to vote. And my question for you is about the primaries. Massachusetts has an open primary system for unaffiliated voters. As a Massachusetts independent trying to live in a Trump-free America, why should I vote for you in the Republican primary instead of a Democrat in their respective primary who might have a better shot at winning the general election?

WELD: You should vote for me in the Republican primary because that’s a direct shot at Trump. And let’s be honest—anybody would say I got a decent chance to win the Massachusetts primary, having been a two-term governor here. I could be a taxi driver in any one of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. And that’s a good start. When I go to bed at night, I’m going to bed in Massachusetts. So I was thrilled when they changed the Massachusetts primary rules from percentage allocation of delegates to winner-take-all.

So that would be a big step. My plan, just to spin it out a little bit, is to win the New Hampshire primary, then to win Massachusetts, Vermont, California, and Wisconsin in Super Tuesday, which is March 3rd, right after the initial ones. And that would be a major, major blow. John Kasich is perceived as having been the runner up to Mr. Trump last time. He won one state—his own state. So, if I win three, four, six states—if you win six, you get a speaking role at the convention. So, you’re helping me, you’re voting against Trump early, and you can vote for the Democrat of your choice in the final.

But getting into the Republican party early is important. And I make that argument to New Hampshire voters, including Democrats—lot of traction with Democrats in particular, the more liberal, the better. They’re saying, and I quote, “Not only am I going to do that, but my entire family is, and everybody we know is going to do that. What a brilliant idea. We don’t have to guess who’s going to be the Democratic nominee. We can come back and vote for the Democrat in the final, best of both worlds.”

WILL THOMPSON: Hi there, governor, I’m Will Thompson. I’m a junior here and I suppose my question is a tad long, so I’ll just get right to it.

WELD: Thank you.

THOMPSON: As China grows into its role as a great power and as Russia continues to confuse its nuclear arsenal for actual global diplomatic influence, how can the U.S. make sure that other emerging potential future great powers—India, Indonesia, Brazil, and others, potentially—how do we make sure that they stay out of the bloc of, quite frankly, rich tyrants and maintain their democratic institutions? And if those are imperfect, improve them, and join the ranks of the free world?

WELD: That’s a super, very sophisticated question. I would spend a lot of attention on India, which is in a huge contest with China for hegemony among developing nations. And India’s main argument is, we’ve got rule of law and China doesn’t. So, I don’t care whether it’s Modi or whether it’s somebody from the Congress Party, I will be camped out right there. And that’s hugely important. And you rightly identify Indonesia as another potential global power, and I suppose you could say the same thing about Brazil. Too bad that we’ve got Bolsonaro there now, because I would not think he’s a visionary that you might want.

But no, it would be very much on my mind. And I would not only make China my number-one port of call, I probably would make Russia my number-two port of call, just because there’s a lot to deal with there. And you can’t put your head in the sand, and I could do business even with Putin saying, “Look, I know you’re doing A, B, C, D, E, and we hate that, and just so you know. But we have this, that, and the other in common and energy supplies here, there. And we’re worried about Germany and we’re worried about dependence on Russian oil. And so, we want to do this and make you this deal. One of my famous three-four-way deals.”

But so, my top two priorities would be China and Russia. I’m not sure India wouldn’t be number three; you rightly point that out. But the point I would like to make, and I made this in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, which was put up by the Council on Foreign Relations this month: it’s all fine and good to say I’m going to engage with this country. But if you don’t prepare and you try to do it just on the back of an envelope or something you had for breakfast, and you don’t spend weeks and months categorizing all the issues and what do we need to watch out for? What’s the limits of the possible?

And I’ve participated in this in the past with other administrations. The amount of detail work that goes into preparation for a summit is staggering. And it’s required because the other people may call an audible at the line of scrimmage. And if you don’t know what that portends for your position, you’re up the creek. So that’s not the style of this administration. This administration—the man in charge says he doesn’t want to listen to any of his experts. And he resolutely refuses to listen.

And I’ve been told by sitting members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by ex-directors of the CIA, that the most terrifying thing they’ve ever done in government is to brief Donald J. Trump about national security issues. Because after two minutes—they all say two minutes—a light goes off in his eyes and he begins to say, “No, no, keep talking. I’m listening. I’m listening. Hey, look at that picture. That’s a good picture of Melania. Woo. I hadn’t seen this article yet. I’m listening. I’m listening.” He’s not listening, but he’ll tell you that himself.

DAVID WHITTINGHAM: Yeah. Hi, my name’s David Whittingham. I’m a first-year undergraduate. I remember being so surprised to learn that it was Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency back in the seventies. And then just a couple of years ago, when Trump was on the campaign trail, he promised to defund the EPA and received lots of applause. And I guess I’m just curious over the course of your career, how you—I guess, where and how you feel that the Republican Party has seemed to lose its way on environmental issues and I guess what you would want to see to right that?

WELD: Yeah, no, the Republican Party definitely lost its way. And you’re right, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were enacted in 1970, in 1972—Dick Nixon. Teddy Roosevelt created the National Park System camping out at Yosemite with Gifford Pinchot, who became his interior secretary. Abraham Lincoln was a big contributor to that system as well. Bill Ruckelshaus and Bill Reilly, the early administrators of the EPA, were champions.

I worked with them and their ilk to clean up Boston Harbor when I was U.S. attorney. I wasn’t even governor yet. That was almost over the dead body of the Reagan administration. But I stayed with it for ten years, and we got that done. I sometimes say—people ask me about my religious beliefs. I sometimes say the outdoors is my cathedral. I was brought up in the woods. I’m living in the woods now. Mother Nature courses through my veins. I know it sounds a little pagan, but probably the most undiluted religious experience I ever had was in Rindge, New Hampshire, at a place called Cathedral of the Pines. And it has these massive pine trees stretching up to the sky and you stand in the middle of them down below and look up. And it’s impossible not to feel that God is in this place.

People say the same thing about the Island of Skye. But I should confess that I’m a Latin and Greek major in college, so all these anthropomorphic representations of the winds, et cetera, are in my head for a long time. But no, I’ve been an environmentalist my whole life. And there’s just no limit to the priority that I would give that.

And you’re right; Mr. Trump has set out to defund the EPA. He gets a lot of credit on the right for having repealed a lot of useless regulations. They’re all of two types: either clean air and clean water and the EPA or repealing regulations that were part of Dodd-Frank designed to protect ordinary citizens against the ravages of a repetition of 2008. Neither one is a place I’d go looking to repeal regulations.

MICHAEL DIANETTI: My name is Michael Dianetti. I’m a sophomore here at Tufts. And I used to identify as a relatively liberal Democrat, but I found as the party goes left and left, I don’t really find any of their policies realistic. So what would you say to candidates and voters who buy into the more idealistic, very expensive policies to convince them to be more financially conservative? And what are some of your plans to address the nation’s most pressing issues without breaking the bank?

WELD: Well, I’ll tell you something about me that’s probably important to say. And Winston Churchill said, “If a young person is not a Liberal when they’re young, they have no heart. And if they’re not a Conservative by the time they’re forty, they have no head.” It doesn’t work for me. And the older I get, and the more suffering I see in world, and the more I see of the world, the more I want to take care of things, take care of people. There’s not something that makes Mr. Trump’s heart go pit-a-pat.

But I’m now the father of eight and the grandfather of nine. And I was thinking the other day about the rule of law and impeachment. President Nixon was removed from office—had to quit—because he failed one specific thing. He failed to take care that the laws be faithfully executed as part of the president’s oath of office.

And by orchestrating the Watergate conspiracy cover-up, he violated that oath. But I was just thinking about the words “take care,” and I think the president of the United States, as the chief magistrate of all the people, has a duty to look out for all the people—and yes, not too strong a word, “take care” of all the people.

And when I was in office, I appointed an African American commission, a Caribbean-American commission, an Asian-American commission, Hispanic-American commission, Islamic-American commission. I met with them all every month. Who would you like to recommend to work in the state administration? Who would you like to recommend to be a judge? Who would you like to recommend to go and be on boards and commissions? What industries are you most interested in? Because those industries used a tax credit or some favorable economic activity.

They all felt like they were part of the team and what it did was unleash everybody’s energies. And I would go in that direction. So that’s the good part of being a Democrat, and it’s a hugely important part. The other stuff: we’re going to give everyone a guaranteed income for life, irrespective of whether they’re willing to work, that’s quote-unquote from the green new deal. That’s—anyone who espouses that sentence is not going to get elected president in the United States of America. We’re not a left-of-center country. We’re maybe slightly right-of-center country and we’ve done pretty well between slightly left-of-center and slightly right-of-center.

And I have noticed—and these Democrats who are running, they’re my friends—but they do describe things in terms of the amount of money they’re willing to spend. Their education programs are about how much is going to be free—their climate change programs or about how much we’re going to spend. It’s not good. And they’ve got to get more into the qualitatively—how am I going to achieve the objective which we need to in this area, I think. I hope that’s partially responsive.

HALEY ROSENFARB: Hi Mr. Weld. I’m Haley Rosenfarb. I’m a sophomore. In 2016, what obstacles did you face in trying to get support from Democrats and Republicans, and how do you convince someone that a vote for a third-party candidate is not a wasted vote?

WELD: How do we get support in 2016 from R’s and D’s?

ROSENFARB:   Mm-hmm (affirmative).

WELD: Yeah, we didn’t. We got four and a half million votes. We wanted to get five percent so the Libertarians could be a majority party, by definition, nationwide. And we got triple the previous best showing of the Libertarians. But Governor Johnson and I, who had been friends as fellow governors together, we argued that the Dems are not fiscally responsible. The R’s are not socially thoughtful or accepting, or even sane. And so we’re the only party that has the best of both worlds. So that should create a six-lane highway for us right up the middle.

And don’t listen to these people in Washington—the D’s and the R’s who want to demonize the other side and say, “You have to be with us. Do what mommy and daddy did, or granny and grandpa.” Boy, we found out that that’s a stronger emotion in a lot of people’s hearts than we thought it was going to be. And then you had two such different candidates. One, a really quite a good candidate, and the other one—unthinkable that the members of those parties just thought they had to hew to them in order to prevent disaster. But we were not successful in that effort.

RICH STARKS:  Good afternoon, Governor. My name’s Rich Starks. I’m a student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. My question is about immigration. I mean, President Trump effectively made the conversation in the Republican primary in 2016 about illegal immigration. And then on the progressive left, you see a movement to not only decriminalize illegal immigration, but for open borders. Can you talk about your position on immigration and what you think is a good policy for America?

WELD: Yes. President Trump’s position on immigration is essentially based on a lie. He says there are 11 million illegal, horrible, filthy, scummy, illegal aliens who have crept among us and want to steal your jobs and ravage your wife. And they all want to be citizens, all 11 million of them, and only I can save you. That’s his position on immigration summarized in the word “wall.” The truth is we need many more work visas in this country, not fewer. We need many more jobs available to people who come, yes, over the southern border to help staff the agriculture industry and the construction industry in the whole western half of the country where I camped out in the last cycle.

None of the building work, none of the harvesting work, would get done in this country without people coming across, yes, that southern border—Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico. Yeah, sure. And maybe they’re brown, maybe they’re not lily-white, and that’s really not a problem. The people seeing the work done don’t care about that at all. And most of the people in this illegal alien status that the president refers to simply overstayed their visas. They did not crawl through the mud over the Mexican border within the last two weeks. And he just wants to paint this picture.

And he started out with—he wants to demonize people by name. In the case of the poor Khan family whose son was killed fighting for the U.S. in the Middle East. Or by religion: he started with the Muslims. Then it was the Hispanics, then it was Democrats or people of color. “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” The guy’s a caricature of a troglodyte; he’s simply a caricature.

So, we need to have more visas and in terms of what’s required at the southern border, any expert will tell you we need more people there. We need more border agents; we need more judges, so our refugee and asylum systems don’t grind to a halt. And we need better-trained people so they’re not ripping children out of their mother’s arms and putting them in cages. I mean, I’m sure it makes the Trump people feel virile to see those kids in cages down there. But as usual, he’s going after the helpless and the individual, and everything that I hold really unacceptable.

HOST:Thanks for listening to this episode of Tell Me More.

As part of the 2020 election season, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life will host presidential candidates like Governor Weld for informal conversations with the Tufts community. These discussions are intended to promote civic dialogue on important issues and inform students, faculty, and staff about candidates’ platforms prior to the election. Please note: Tisch College is a nonpartisan institution and does not endorse any candidate.

Please subscribe and rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts—and to be the first to hear about new episodes, please follow Tufts University on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We’d also welcome your thoughts on the series. You can reach us at tellmemore@tufts.edu. That’s T-U-F-T-S dot E-D-U.

Tell Me More is produced by Julie Flaherty, Anna Miller, Katie McLeod Strollo, and Dave Nuscher. This episode was edited by 5 to 9 Media and Anna Miller. Web production and editing support provided by Taylor McNeil. Special thanks to the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. Our theme music is sourced from De Wolfe Music. And my name is Patrick Collins. Until next time—be well.