New York magazine this morning posted a startling tweet:
— New York Magazine (@NYMag) October 5, 2016
The underlying post, headlined “Libertarian VP Candidate Bill Weld Gives Up, Will Focus on Preventing Trump Presidency,” is an interpretative summation of a Boston Globe article from yesterday that begins like this:
The Libertarian vice presidential candidate, William F. Weld, said Tuesday that he plans to focus exclusively on blasting Donald Trump over the next five weeks, a strategic pivot aimed at denying Trump the White House and giving himself a key role in helping to rebuild the GOP.
But in a follow-up interview with Reason this afternoon, Weld denied that he was pivoting, denied that he would be focusing “exclusively” on Trump, and denied that he was working on any political future outside the Libertarian Party.
“I said to the reporter that I plan to focus on Donald Trump, because I think his international proposals represent a grave threat,” Weld told me, “but in the same breath I said that I’m not going to omit to make the points that Mrs. Clinton, if she were elected, runs the risk of spending and borrowing us into the poorhouse, and that I think her fiscal policies and her military policies are not at all in line with the approach that Gary Johnson and I will take if elected. So nothing is to the exclusion of anything else. I did convey to the Globe the idea that I would be emphasizing the respects in which I think Mr. Trump’s international proposals are wrong-headed, but that’s nothing new—I’ve been saying that since Day One.”
Indeed he has. During Tuesday’s vice presidential debate, Weld did not behave like someone who was no longer going to be criticizing Democrats, instead using his Twitter and Facebook to say stuff like this:
While unconvincing to those of us who have heard it before from Republicans, Gov. Pence presented a bit more fiscal restraint. But, he enthusiastically embraced a social agenda that makes most Americans uncomfortable.
Senator Kaine, on the other hand, rightly rejected the Trump social and immigration extremes, but is saddled with Ms. Clinton’s spending and tax plans.
That left tens of millions of nonpartisan Americans without a comfortable voice on the stage, a voice they would otherwise hear, and have, if the debates were not limited to the partisan extremes.
The Globe piece contains several paraphrased sentiments from unnamed Weld “aides” about things like “Johnson’s flubs on national television,” and then drops this scooplet:
At one point, Weld strategists researched Libertarian Party rules to see if it were possible for him to take over the top of the ticket. The rules state the vice presidential nominee automatically assumes the presidential spot if there is a vacancy. But Johnson, peeved at the suggestion, flatly rejected the idea.
“No, you can’t do that—all 50 states have printed their ballots, so it’s completely out of the question, even if it was a good idea, which it’s not,” Weld told me. But were his “strategists” looking into the possibility? “It didn’t come to me,” he said.
The former Massachusetts governor also rejected the Globe‘s assertion that “Weld’s new plan calls for him to focus his fire on Trump in a handful of red states,” saying “No, somebody’s making that up.”
“I mean, I’m going be tomorrow in Massachusetts, the next two days in New Hampshire, and then in Maine,” he continued. “Those are not red states the last time I looked.” Certainly, Weld’s itinerary does not look like the schedule of a candidate who has given up.
Of particular sensitivity to Libertarians, given Weld’s star-crossed history with the party and ideological departures from libertarianism, was this sentence in the Globe article: “He insisted he was not abandoning Johnson, although he signaled that bolting from the Libertarian Party might be a possibility in the future.” Weld’s response? “No, that’s the most made-up of any of these phrases.”
Clearly, Weld at the least has several friends who think that Gary Johnson is a dud, that Weld would hate to play spoiler to Hillary Clinton, and that he has his eye on post-2016 politics in some way. Recall that the originator of the Weld-might-drop-out rumor was his friend Carl Bernstein, on Sept. 16. When I asked Weld 10 days later when he had last spoken to Bernstein, he said: “I talked to Carl within the last two weeks,” and then added:
Well, Carl and I are friends, and I think he’s a good guy. He was just speculating, he made no bones about that. But it’s not well-grounded speculation, and I do think the campaign seized on it to try to promote the rumor that I would renounce everything that I am doing. I’m not that kind of guy, and I sort of said so today [that it] would not be in character at all. [...]
Last Friday, I got 25 emails saying “You idiot! You have to renounce or else you’ll be a villain to the United States because you’ll elect Donald Trump!” And then on Monday I got 25 voicemails at my office saying the same thing….These are from people that I do not know, so I have to think that was orchestrated from somewhere, and I would think that one possible source directly or indirectly would be the Clinton campaign. But that’s who I am talking about. It’s not Carl Bernstein. Carl was fine, he was just speculating.
While it seems plain that people in Weldworld are whispering to reporters, it’s equally clear that the national media is hearing what they want to hear whenever the veep candidate says anything ambiguous. When he tried to make a post-”Aleppo moment” point to MSNBC’s Chuck Todd last week that foreign-policy paper qualifications do not equal foreign policy judgment, scores of media outlets immediately misrepresented the remarks as gushing over Clinton’s fitness for the presidency. As with Donald Trump’s PTSD comments, we are officially in context-abandonment season, particularly when a new soundbite plays into a pre-existing narrative or suspicion.
“My impression is that some in the media, and definitely both of the establishment parties, would love to get me off that ticket,” Weld told me. “And I don’t know whether it’s so that Mrs. Clinton can sleep easier, or whether it’s so that Mr. Trump can sleep better—clearly he’s been having trouble sleeping—but it could be both. If so, I’m flattered.”
I interviewed Weld as he was on his way to record an interview for the great Fox Business Network program Kennedy. A little birdie tells me that the exchange was considerably more contentious than mine; you’ll want to check in tonight at 8 p.m. to see for yourself! In the meantime, here’s my interview with Weld at this year’s Libertarian National Convention, asking whether his new party can trust him: