by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Want to know a little more about William Weld, the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee? Our own Rick Henderson profiled Weld 25 years ago for Reason.
On election day 1990, Pete Wilson and William Weld looked like political twins. Both were moderate Republicans, lifelong public servants who had nonetheless avoided the deadly “insider” label. Wilson had been a state legislator, a mayor, and then a United States senator; Weld had been a local and federal prosecutor. As gubernatorial candidates, they had campaigned as tough on crime, avid environmentalists, supporters of gay rights, and prochoice on abortion.
But if Wilson and Weld were twins, they were hardly identical. Wilson is the classic workaholic, rising at dawn to work out on an exercise machine and often laboring on minute details of policy past midnight. He’s also hypersensitive to criticism, hates to negotiate, and loves to pick fights; one Republican consultant says Wilson “is always looking for bullets to bite.” Wilson often compares himself to Ronald Reagan—after all, Reagan also backed a hefty tax hike his first year in Sacramento—but in style and disposition he resembles Jimmy Carter more than the Great Communicator.
Weld, on the other hand, sometimes plays squash in the middle of the day and self-deprecatingly says he’s “a little lazy.” A Massachusetts Republican legislator says Weld, who won his first election last November, readily admits mistakes; he’s flexible but will “go to the mat” when he believes his stands are right. Still, the legislator says, “the governor never gets mad. He’s a very nice guy and everybody likes him.” Wilson likes Broadway show tunes; Weld, the early Rolling Stones.
The differences extend to their policies. Facing a budget crisis, ’Wilson repudiated the legacy of the California tax revolt—he raised taxes by $8 billion and increased spending by half that much. Weld, in contrast, stared down the big-government culture of “Taxachusetts.” He balanced his state’s budget with no new taxes or new government borrowing and cut total spending by 5.5 percent.
Wilson and Weld made these decisions on politics and policy consciously, and their approaches reflect a fundamental split in the way they view government. As two of the most prominent Republicans outside of Washington, they have the opportunity to define the governing ideas of the post-Reagan party. Will the GOP adopt the tax, spend, and regulate policies of Pete Wilson’s big-government conservatism? Or will it embrace Bill Weld, the good-government conservative who wants to shrink state programs, keep taxes under control, and emphasize efficiency and private initiatives over bureaucracy? Contrary to Election Day perspectives, neither Wilson nor Weld is a moderate. Both have ideas and ambitions that could remake the GOP.