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William Weld focus is on debt and jobs

Former Massachusetts Republican Gov. William Weld endorses the

Former Massachusetts Republican Gov. William Weld endorses the candidacy of Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, right, on Nov. 2, 2006, in her unsuccessful bid for the corner office. Credit: AP / Stephan Savoia

The moment he sits down, you can tell Bill Weld’s been a governor. He’s got a self-assuredness that comes only from high-level executive experience — and pressure. There is no nonsense in the guy.

After many years in the private sector, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts is back in the public eye as the vice presidential running mate of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico.

I was sitting with Weld, 70, a Smithtown native, over coffee in Manhattan last week ostensibly as a columnist. But I was also there as a voter. I wanted to know two things: Is he conservative enough for me, and can he make the Libertarian ticket pop on the national stage? Can it actually become a viable alternative — an enthusiastic alternative — for voters who can’t pull the lever in November for Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton?

Weld read my mind before I could even ask a question: “Gary and I were rated the two most economically responsible governors in America in 1992 and 1995,” he said. “Massachusetts was the only state to have a smaller budget in real dollars in ’92 than in the previous year. We’re proven fiscal conservatives, and we did it in Democrat-majority states.

“The federal debt is about to reach $20 trillion,” Weld continued without pause. I reached for a notebook. “Neither major party candidate is even talking about that. Their plans will massively add to the debt, not reduce it. That growing debt load is doing enormous damage to American stature around the world — Gary and I have shown we have the political will to be temporarily unpopular in order to right the ship.”

He was talking my language.

Weld also wants federal tax rates lower and flatter to spawn savings and entrepreneurship (19 percent is his target income tax rate.) He called himself a free-trader and a supply-sider.

“We will gain more high-wage jobs through free-trade agreements than we’ve lost low wage jobs,” he said.

He also made it clear that the United States needs a strong international military presence to safeguard its interests, touching on a concern that many conservatives, including this one, have about Libertarians, who tend to eschew hawkish foreign policy stances.

We didn’t harp on social policies on which Weld is famously liberal. There was no point. Anti-abortion conservatives and Weld simply disagree. But pro-abortion rights Democrats who don’t trust Clinton might find Weld’s and Johnson’s social liberalism reassuring enough to cross over for them.

Can a Johnson-Weld ticket raise enough money to be competitive? Weld smiled. “That’s exactly what I’m doing right now,” he said, reminding me that he was California Gov. Pete Wilson’s national finance chairman in Wilson’s 1996 presidential bid and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s New York finance chairman four years ago. “I’m talking to a lot of very significant people right now. Stay tuned.”

Time will tell if that money will come. But every passing day without an alternative Republican candidate emerging for the never-Trump crowd to rally around bodes well for the Johnson-Weld fundraising team.

“How do you and Governor Johnson break into these news cycles?” I asked.

“By getting into the debates,” he said. (Presidential candidates who reach 15 percent in select national polls are invited into the nationally televised debates later this year.)

What I meant to ask was, “Are you and Governor Johnson willing to really mix it up with Trump and Clinton in those debates to spark the momentum you’d need to become a truly viable ticket?” But I missed my chance.

I guess I’ll to have to wait like everyone else to find out.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.