Why Clinton Must Woo Weld

Why Clinton Must Woo Weld
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William Weld, call your office. If the campaign of Hillary Clinton is in it to win, then someone has already left you a message offering you a position in her Cabinet, likely at an agency of your choosing.

As Gary Johnson implodes in television interviews, unable to answer even the most rudimentary foreign policy question, the Libertarian ticket seems to be going up in smoke. Despite an assurance from the former New Mexico governor that he stopped smoking marijuana before launching his candidacy, a certain haze seems to be holding him back. If running mate Weld, who is the stronger candidate on the ticket, quits, the third-party campaign is likely to burn up altogether.

Johnson’s quixotic bid may be the only thing standing between Clinton and the Oval Office. Polls show that a four-way race (which includes Green Party candidate Jill Stein) is one Clinton can easily lose. In two-way polls, she bests Donald Trump -- but voters will not get ballots listing only those two names. Should Johnson amass double-digit support, and factoring the support siphoned off by Stein, the two could throw the election to Trump.

Perhaps this crossed Weld’s mind as he sat beside Johnson at the MSNBC “Hardball College Tour” town hall hosted by Chris Matthews Wednesday. Johnson couldn’t cough up the name of any world leader he admired, and sat dazed as Matthews bought him more time by naming continent after continent the wide range of leaders could hail from. Johnson, as if playing himself in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, blurted he was “having an Aleppo moment,” referring to the time recently when he couldn’t answer a question about the humanitarian crisis in Syria because he didn’t know what Aleppo was.

Weld sat stoically, and looked as if he knew what was coming. At one point the former Massachusetts governor even offered up the name Shimon Peres, the former president of Israel who had just passed away, seemingly to fill the silence, but Matthews insisted the leader be living. Johnson struggled to find the name of “the former president of Mexico,” to which Matthews barked, “Which one?” Weld hurled lifelines, naming former presidents until Johnson settled on Vicente Fox. When it was Weld’s turn for the quiz he responded softly “Merkel,” pronouncing the chancellor of Germany’s name in a silky-smooth German accent.

It’s hard to see Weld sticking around if Clinton can give him a better offer. The Johnson-Weld ticket once seemed a good idea -- both two-term Republican former governors who won in Democratic states and fiscal conservatives and social moderates who are more representative of a majority of voters. But it’s become more than a bit awkward. Weld was always the better salesman and Republicans openly pondered why he wasn’t at the top of the ticket, doubting Johnson’s heft from the beginning. Mitt Romney, for example, shopping for an alternative to Trump, wished aloud that Weld was heading the Libertarian ticket instead of Johnson.

Carl Bernstein passed along a rumor a few weeks back that indeed Weld didn’t want to be a spoiler and would soon leave the ticket to endorse and campaign for Clinton in order to stop Trump. Weld and Clinton reportedly met as lawyers decades ago and share mutual friends, which Bernstein said could lead to pressure on him to leave the Libertarian ticket if Trump began to lead in polls. Weld denied the report, calling it “wishful thinking,” and insisted that “under no circumstances will our energies be diverted from our goal of winning the election and serving our country.” Johnson, uncharacteristically animated over the report, called it “bull----.”

If Clinton wants to put the last nail in the coffin of Johnson’s candidacy, while simultaneously bolstering her own, she should think about peeling Weld off immediately. Clinton is hemorrhaging support among young voters who dug Obama and adored Bernie Sanders but are increasingly turned off by the former secretary of state. In a recent Quinnipiac Poll, she had lost 17 percentage points among young voters in one month alone -- 14 points went to Johnson and three went to Stein. The latest CNN poll from Colorado had a one-point lead for Trump because Johnson’s support was up to 13 points. In August Clinton had enjoyed a healthy lead in the state.

Clinton and her husband remember far too well when Vice President Al Gore won Florida in 2000. Oh, wait, he didn’t. But for 97,000 votes in the Sunshine State that went to Ralph Nader, Gore would have defeated George W. Bush, never faced a recount—and none of us would have ever heard of a hanging chad.

Clinton, whose team has devoted ample time and resources to attracting the support of Republican defectors, should realize Weld is perhaps her most important GOP target and do all she can to reel him in. If Weld wants to be relevant again he should blow the doors off a ticket that was at best a lark and now is a national joke.

For his part, Johnson remains defiant, in his gentle way, tweeting Thursday that “it has been almost 24 hours…I still can’t think of a foreign leader I admire.” He hopes that enough of his fellow Americans can’t think of one they admire either—or don’t care if Johnson can’t—so that he’ll surge in support, meeting the 15 percent polling threshold to make it to the stage for the second presidential debate in St. Louis on Oct. 9 or the final faceoff in Las Vegas on Oct. 19. Imagining that happening -- since it won’t -- might require some pot smoking. But for Weld there’s a more realistic path forward: He can give up on Gary and cut a deal with Hillary. Johnson seems like the kind of guy who would get over it pretty quickly.   

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist.

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