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Bill Weld is the best possible Trump challenger

Bill Weld is the best possible Trump challenger
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Republicans who say a primary challenge against Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUS gives examples of possible sanctions relief to Iran GOP lawmaker demands review over FBI saying baseball shooting was 'suicide by cop' House passes bill aimed at stopping future Trump travel ban MORE is a futile exercise need to consider the general election. To keep the White House, they need a candidate who can win over Independents and other moderate voters. And that candidate is Bill WeldWilliam (Bill) WeldRalph Gants, chief justice of Massachusetts supreme court, dies at 65 The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden visits Kenosha | Trump's double-voting suggestion draws fire | Facebook clamps down on election ads Biden picks up endorsements from nearly 100 Republicans MORE, who offers a compelling combination of conservative values on bread and butter issues and electability in battleground states.

Weld’s conservative credentials are not widely talked about, given his label as a New England Republican, but they are significant. In 1980, he was the Massachusetts chairman of Illinois Congressman Philip Crane's campaign for president. Crane, a stalwart free-trader and tax cutter, was one of the most visible leaders in the conservative movement in the Republican Party.

When Crane dropped out, Weld supported Ronald Reagan, who subsequently appointed him U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. Weld vigorously targeted public corruption and white-collar crime, winning convictions in 109 out of 111 corruption cases. Reagan promoted Weld to Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, overseeing all federal investigations.

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As governor of Massachusetts, Weld supported the death penalty for cop killers and pushed for tougher criminal justice laws. On welfare reform, another key Republican issue, he passed the strictest law in the nation that put a time limit on cash benefits and required able bodied recipients to find a job or perform community service. Welfare rolls plummeted.

But it was Weld’s conservative fiscal policies that were most notable. When he took office in 1991, he faced a $1.8 billion dollar deficit and the worst bond rating in the country. He closed the operating deficit without borrowing from Wall Street or raising taxes. In his first budget proposal, state spending actually decreased year-over-year, a rare occurrence in any government bureaucracy.  Both The Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, rated him the most fiscally conservative governor in the country.

I know. I was one of Weld’s aides when he was governor.

Weld took a fiscal axe to state spending in his first term, but more broadly he set out to radically change the perception of Massachusetts (a.k.a. Taxachusetts). He cut taxes 21 times, balanced every budget, privatized certain state services, reduced the state’s payroll, and put in place regulatory reforms to restore Massachusetts as a global competitor for high paying jobs. The real Massachusetts Miracle was that Weld was successful as a Republican governor in such a blue state, where Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 3 to 1 in the state legislature.

There is no greater domestic issue today than the country’s spiraling national debt, and Weld has the credibility and political resolve to lead that debate. Conversely, Trump said he would pay off the national debt ($19 trillion dollars) “over a period of eight years.” Instead, he has increased it by more than $2 trillion dollars. And that’s not counting his most recent budget, signed in August, which is expected to add another $1.7 trillion over the next decade. 

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Trump is a protectionist on trade; Weld is a dyed-in-the-wool free trader. Trump thinks climate change is a hoax; Weld believes that the protection of natural resources is "conservatism in its purest form." Trump's immigration policy is one word: wall. Weld believes that "opposing the free flow of goods or people is a bad idea," that comprehensive immigration reform, and close partnership with our border allies, is far more effective.

On foreign policy, Trump has created national insecurity. Reagan won the respect of the world through his skillful use of soft power as a tool to complement our nation’s military strength, but Trump has shown no regard for diplomacy. Instead, he praises our enemies, bullies our allies and humiliates our country’s fearless diplomats, generals and intelligence officers who believe that public service is an honor, not an instrument of a president's ego.

Weld is widely respected for his steady, self-confident style of governing.  As a member of both the Council on Foreign Relations and the InterAction Council, an elected group of former heads of state from throughout the world who develop recommendations on peace and security, he is an intellectual heavyweight; Trump is a flyweight. His emotional intoxication puts America at risk every day. It is time America had an emotionally sober commander-in-chief.

The biggest criticism of Weld is on social issues, that he is too moderate. He is pro-choice and was one of the first governors in the United States to advocate equal rights for the LGBTQ community, demonstrating his unequivocal belief that all citizens be treated equally.

But Weld’s stance on social issues would be a competitive advantage in the general election. His appeal among Independents and conservative Democrats propelled him to re-election in Massachusetts with 71 percent of the vote, in a state where registered Republicans comprised just 14 percent of the electorate.

Conversely, Trump has gone out of his way to obliterate his standing with swing voters such as suburban women, minorities and millennials. The biggest battleground will be Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which Trump won by just 44,292, 10,704 and 22,748 votes, respectively, in a low turnout election for traditional Democratic voters. By comparison, in the previous five elections, the Republican candidate for president lost those states on average by 338,811, 432,749, and 174,374, respectively. Multiple polls in these states have Trump losing by wide margins. If the Democratic nominee wins every state Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Cuba readies for life without Castro Chelsea Clinton: Pics of Trump getting vaccinated would help him 'claim credit' MORE did plus these three states, that’s enough electoral votes to win the election without carrying Florida or Ohio.

But recent polls also have Trump behind in Florida. On the day of Trump’s re-election kickoff rally in Orlando in June, the editorial board of the Orlando Sentinel, normally a right of center newspaper, wrote a scathing non-endorsement of Trump, saying, “There is no point pretending we would ever recommend that our readers vote for Trump… Enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies.”

Even more ominous is that Orlando falls in the middle of the Interstate-4 corridor that cuts through Central Florida, an area that accounts for about 40 percent of Florida’s registered voters, approximately 20 percent of whom are Independents.

Taking on a president in a primary is no small feat. It is much easier for Republicans to look the other way on Trump’s incompetence … go along to get along. But Weld has proven time and again throughout his career that he answers to one constituency: his conscience. Now it’s time for Republicans who care about keeping the White House in 2020 to listen to theirs. 

John Stimpson served as an aide to former Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld. He has since worked in senior business development roles in the hedge funds industry. He lives in New York City.