Staff Columnist

Are Republicans willing to disagree? Caucus challenger wants to find out

FILE PHOTO: Libertarian vice presidential candidate Bill Weld speaks at a rally in New York, U.S., September 10, 2016.  REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Libertarian vice presidential candidate Bill Weld speaks at a rally in New York, U.S., September 10, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich/File Photo

An underdog 2020 candidate is betting on the willingness of Republicans to disagree.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld brought his presidential campaign to Iowa this past weekend for a speech at the Iowa State Fair. Weld argues President Donald Trump has demeaned the Republican Party’s values by abandoning fiscal conservatism, free trade and social cohesion.

“I’m unapologetic about challenging him here because I don’t think that he’s a real Republican,” Weld said on the Des Moines Register’s soapbox stage Sunday.

No president in modern history has lost a renomination campaign to a challenger, and Trump remains popular among Republican voters.

Nevertheless, Weld is undeterred. He is offering a unique and refreshing policy platform, mixing conventional conservatism with sizable portions of centrist and libertarian views.

On fiscal issues, Weld is concerned with the enormous bipartisan budget deficit. He advocates zero-base budgeting, which would eliminate automatic budget increases for federal departments.

Climate change is real, Weld acknowledges, and he would champion the expansion of renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydro. He also supports nuclear energy, contrasting with many climate activists on the left.

On foreign policy, Weld favors “robust engagement” but is wary of excessive troop deployments.

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As a former federal prosecutor, Weld is open to “red flag” laws, which would authorize the government to confiscate guns from some individuals in certain cases. He opposes “a supercharged background check on everybody every time they buy a gun.”

In other words, Weld is what he calls a “New England Republican.”

“We’re people who are fiscally conservative, worried about taxpayer money, but socially we’re embracing and we’re welcoming,” Weld said.

This is not a political persona crafted for the current moment. It is the same old Weld from the early 1990s.

Weld recalled speaking at the 1992 Republican National Convention, when he was serving his first term as a Republican governor in a Democratic state. Before a huge crowd of Republican activists, Weld spoke in favor of abortion rights, saying “I want government out of your pocketbook and your bedroom.”

Weld remembers being booed for that statement, but C-SPAN footage from the convention in Houston shows he received both boos and cheers, seemingly in equal parts.

“This disagreement is not unhealthy. Unlike the Democrats, George Bush and the Republican Party are not afraid of a little disagreement. My appearance before you here tonight proves it,” Weld told the 1992 convention.

I was still wearing diapers in 1992, so I can’t say whether Weld’s optimism about intraparty disagreements was realistic at the time.

Nearly 30 years later, I wish it were true that Republicans are unafraid of disagreement, but I’m skeptical. We Republicans who criticize the president are frequently ostracized as fake conservatives. Many have left the party out of

frustration.

I’m worried this has become the Trump party, not the party of limited government.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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