SALT LAKE CITY — On Thursday, Gallup announced President Donald Trump’s approval rating remained at 49% — the highest it's been since taking over the Oval Office in 2017. For historical context, that puts his approval rating right on average with the last five presidents combined in their fourth year.
Within the Republican Party, however, his approval rating is much higher. Gallup reports that Trump’s approval rating with the Republican Party is a whopping 93%. So who would challenge Trump for the Republican nomination for the upcoming 2020 election, and why?
Enter former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who visited Utah on Friday. Weld’s schedule in the Beehive State included a tour of the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City and a visit at Utah Valley University in Orem. He is one of six other candidates Utah Republican voters may find on their presidential primary ballot. And he, Robert Ardini, Matthew John Matern and Bob Ely are the remaining candidates who haven’t either withdrawn or ended their campaign.
Weld said the high approval ratings within the party shouldn’t overshadow the other aspects of Trump’s presidency, such as controversial rhetoric and political ideology. That’s something that’s worn on him over the past few years.
“It’s time for somebody to stand up and plant a flag,” Weld said, during a joint editorial board meeting with KSL and Deseret News on Friday morning. “The flag is decency. The flag is integrity. … The problem is not Trump voters; it’s Trump.”
Of course, he faces a steep uphill battle to win the Republican nomination. That’s not only true because of Trump’s popularity within the Republican Party, but also history. A political party deciding to go another route while a president of that party is in office isn’t unheard of, but it is extremely rare today.
There have been five presidents who sought renomination within their political party but never received it — and every case happened in the 19th Century. Those presidents were John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Chester A. Arthur. Of the five, only Pierce had been elected; Tyler, Fillmore, Johnson and Arthur all assumed office following the death of a predecessor.
Lyndon B. Johnson is the last U.S. president to not be renominated for a second term, but that’s because Johnson withdrew his candidacy in 1968 amid pressure from a different platform within the Democratic Party and after early poll results showed voters felt the same way.
Weld is well aware his outlook isn’t good; however, he wants to give Republican voters another option to think about.
He served as the Massachusetts governor from 1991 until 1997. That was before he served as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico under President Bill Clinton. In 2016, Weld split from the Republican Party to become Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s running mate. Through that time, he’s worked with all forms of political views.
In a candid 30-minute meeting with reporters and editors, Weld applauded the economic growth under Trump, which he said might be Trump’s strongest argument for reelection. However, he is wary of Trump’s tone, as well as other policies, such as how he handles the federal deficit, how he treats minority groups, and how he deals with Democrats, independent judiciary and members of the free press. He also thinks not enough is being done to address the health care system.
It’s time for somebody to stand up and plant a flag. The flag is decency. The flag is integrity.
–Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld
Weld accused Trump of having nationalist views which he said contradict patriotism, in that nationalism is fueled by hatred of outsiders and patriotism is fueled by acceptance of the country. Weld also claimed Trump isn’t a free trader because “his first recourse in foreign policy is tariffs and sanctions,” and that Trump struggles with working across the aisle.
“There are important issues that divide us, such as not having trillion-dollar deficits, caring about clean air — which Mr. Trump clearly does not (care about),” Weld said. “And then the separating out people by group and by religion and going after them. It’s not something that’s good for the United States.”
“I’d argue to younger voters that both the climate change issue and the trillion-dollar deficit are guns aimed right at their heads,” he added.
Weld’s campaign has had modest success at this point, but nothing revolutionary. He received 9% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary earlier this month and gained one delegate from the Iowa caucus. It’s the only Republican delegate gained by someone aside from Trump so far. But it’s clear from the early results that Trump should have no problem receiving the Republican nomination again.
So what is Weld’s endgame out of this? He said he wants to nudge the Republican Party and the national political conversation away from partisan warfare and back toward policies. In that way, he thinks his campaign has already been successful.
“People are aware that there are alternative ways to proceed,” he said. “I do think I have the betterment of the argument on what I tactically called the tone issue — how people should approach the government in Washington, D.C.”