BOSTON (AP) - William Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts who two years ago ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket, on Monday became the first Republican to challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 primaries.
Weld, 73, said in announcing his candidacy that “it is time to return to the principles of Lincoln - equality, dignity and opportunity for all.” He said, “There is no greater cause on earth than to preserve what truly makes America great. I am ready to lead that fight.”
Weld has accused Trump of leaving the nation in “grave peril” and has said his “priorities are skewed toward promotion of himself rather than for the good of the country.” While Trump’s overall approval ratings have been poor for much of his presidency, he remains popular with Republican voters. The Republican National Committee in January issued a nonbinding resolution to declare the party’s undivided support for Trump.
The move by Weld makes Trump the first incumbent president since George H.W. Bush in 1992 to face a notable primary challenge.
Primary challengers to incumbent presidents have never been successful at stealing the nomination in the modern era, but embarrassing intraparty contests have proved to be the making of one-term leaders, seeding weaknesses that were later exploited by a general-election rival.
Trump’s campaign has taken extraordinary steps in cementing control over the RNC and the broader nomination process as it seeks to minimize the risk of any potential challenger doing the same to the president. His campaign recently reported raising $30 million in the first quarter of this year, while Democrats are raising less money than in previous cycles.
Fiscally conservative but socially liberal, Weld is known for an unconventional, at times quirky, political style and a long history of friction with the party he now seeks to lead.
Weld endorsed Democrat Barack Obama over Republican nominee John McCain in 2008, later saying it was a mistake to do so, and has enjoyed a decadeslong friendship with the Clintons, which began early in his career when he served alongside Hillary Clinton as a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate proceedings.
Weld’s nomination by President Bill Clinton to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico touched off a bitter public spat with then-Sen. Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican from North Carolina who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Years earlier, Weld was among a handful of top Justice Department officials to resign in protest over alleged ethical violations by then-Attorney General Ed Meese, long a favorite of conservatives.