How the Clubbiest Insider Became a Political Insurgent

How the Clubbiest Insider Became a Political Insurgent

Why you should care

Because in an election season that has defied convention, the Libertarian Party may have its most electable ticket yet.

With his Oxford and Harvard education and Kennedyesque air (both presidential chin and pedigree), William “Bill” Weld would seem to be the furthest thing from a poster child of libertarianism — which in most elections has had, well, a more layman touch. Rebranding is part of the point, though, the 70-year-old vice presidential candidate tells OZY. And chatting over coffee at the Princeton Club in New York City only drives the message home as the ’90s-era champion of gay rights and tax cutting effusively compliments both Republican John Kasich and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

But the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, who barely won the Libertarian Party’s nomination — second ballot, thin margin — inspired boos at the party’s convention for his past support of (limited) gun restrictions and other libertarian no-no’s. Still, most party followers believe their ticket, topped by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, will make a dramatic dent in America’s political duopoly, which Weld calls “unhealthy, and the two parties seem to exist for the purpose of demonizing each other.” Already, Weld and Johnson’s name recognition has resulted in a prime-time CNN town hall set for tonight, and this election could be a breakthrough moment for both libertarians and Weld. Our edited conversation follows.

OZY: Why are you running as a Libertarian this year?

William Weld: Gary and I think a majority of Americans hold views that correspond to libertarian views. They’re socially liberal, tolerant and inclusive on issues like abortion and marriage rights. On the fiscally conservative side, we both cut and balanced the budget while governing in blue states. It’s also a good year because there seems to be room.

OZY: Have you reached out to #NeverTrump Republicans looking for an alternative to Donald Trump?

W.W.: We will talk to these folks, but let’s let some time pass and see if we can’t elevate our profile somewhat first.

We don’t conceive that we’re running against Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton, though that doesn’t mean we won’t be fiercely critical when Mr. Trump issues policy proposals such as re-creating the Berlin Wall around the Mexican border or arming Japan and Korea with nuclear weapons, when nuclear proliferation is the biggest threat today.

OZY: Some libertarians oppose the Obama administration’s pushback on “bathroom bills” that restrict restroom access for transgender people, because they see it as federal overreach. Would you enforce protections for the trans community?

W.W.: That’s the same thing as asking if someone would vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Gary drew some boos at the convention when he said he would [enforce protections]. If bathroom access for transgender people rises to the status of a right that needs protection, then why not?

OZY: You previously supported limited gun control. Post-Orlando, your party has called for an end to “gun-free” zones.

W.W.: I learned about such zones from Gary, who thinks it would be a disincentive for lunatics to walk into a crowded theater and open fire if they knew six people a few seats away could shoot them. You don’t want students bringing guns to schools, but in the context of a gay nightclub? You can see more of an argument for it, since it might be a target.

OZY: There are people uncomfortable with gun-free zones including a place that serves alcohol.

W.W.: That makes some sense. I might be persuadable. Maybe you could only bring a gun if you were a designated driver, or something like that.

OZY: How do you see your role on this ticket?

W.W.: Gary’s a real Westerner, and I’m a real Easterner. I’ve spent more time on foreign policy than he has, while he’s been more recently in the thick of national politics. It’s a good blend.

Right now, Gary by himself is polling 10 to 12 percent. If we drew the interest of just another 5 percent, that takes us to around 20 percent. With that, a party could go all the way when you get to the final two months and voters really pay attention.

OZY: What’s on the agenda for the first 100 days of a Johnson-Weld administration?

W.W.: If you don’t achieve 50 percent of your objectives in the first six months, you’re a failure. The first thing I would propose tackling would be the hardest: the budget. I’d adopt zero-based budgeting, which assumes each budget starts not at last year’s level but at zero, so every program has to justify itself.

If a health care program achieved sensational outcomes, I could see multiplying that appropriation by six, 10 or 12. If another seems sluggish, that might go to zero. You don’t assume there are sacred cows.

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