Maverick Republican William Weld looks to run against Trump's 'malignant narcissism'

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who recently launched an exploratory committee to consider a Republican primary challenge in the 2020 presidential race, said that President Trump exhibits “malignant narcissism” and is undercutting the rule of law with actions “way beyond anything Richard Nixon ever did.”

Weld has special credentials to make that judgment: As a young lawyer, he served on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon, spending five months researching a memo that laid out the legal grounds to remove a president.

“The article that got the most votes in the Nixon impeachment, in the House Judiciary Committee, was article two, called agency abuse,” Weld said in an interview for the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.” “It was misuse of the FBI and the CIA by trying to direct them not to pursue the Watergate inquiry on the ground that it involved national security.”

“Now we’ve seen more than that from this President,” Weld said after clicking off examples that included Trump’s firing of James Comey after the FBI director refused to pledge his loyalty and “telling the Justice Department that its job essentially is to … protect his political skirts.”

Although he used to be an advocate for Trump’s impeachment, Weld said he now accepts House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s judgment that it is currently not worth pursuing given that the votes are not there in the GOP-controlled Senate to convict the president.

But, he added, “if the Democrats had the votes in the Senate, this thing would go through like suet through a goose. Are you kidding me?”

Weld, 73, made these comments as he begins his long-shot campaign to unseat the president, whose support among Republican voters in most polls is over 90 percent. But Weld displayed a breezy indifference to the polls. “Six months is forever in politics — and don’t tell me nothing’s going to change,” he said.  He insisted he is not running only to weaken Trump for the general election, hoping to elect a Democrat.

“I think the only reason to do something like this is to do it with the purpose in mind of winning,” he said. He also denied that his candidacy was a placeholder for a possible candidacy by better-known Republicans such as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney or Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who have been mentioned as possible challengers. “I am not a stalking horse,” Weld said.

Just how Weld, who ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 2016, could possibly pull off a primary upset against Trump off is far from clear. A recent Politico article  gave a harsh view of his first weeks as a non-declared candidate, pointing out that he had shown little ability to raise money,  earn endorsements, or get much press attention.

But Weld said he wasn’t measuring himself that way. He’s gotten a good reaction so far, he said,

At town halls In New Hampshire and he said that early-voting state, next door to Massachusetts, will be central to his strategy. A strong showing there, he believes, will give him momentum in other early primary states in New England and California and as many as 20 states where independents can vote in GOP primaries.

On some policy issues, Weld is well within Republican orthodoxy, supporting the president’s tax cuts and private health care savings account as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. He sharply differs from Trump on climate change policy. But his fundamental objection to Trump is the president’s volatile temperament and his “disrespect” for the rule of law.

Asked what disturbs him most about Trump, he replied: “I think his meanness. I mean, he says he’s a counter-puncher. Baloney. That’s vindictiveness, and it’s often directed at little people. … It’s  no secret that his stock in trade is divisiveness and trying to stir up the pot and pit groups against each other, and as long as everyone’s teeth are on edge, he’s happy.”

“You know, they call it narcissism.” He added. “There’s a form of narcissism called malignant narcissism. … You’re not happy unless other people are losing.

William Weld. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: AP)

“One of the things that galls me is the president is the worst possible role model for our children and grandchildren,” he said. “They’re going to grow up thinking this is how the occupant of the highest office in the land acts. That’s got to be terrible for kids.”

Download or subscribe on iTunes: “Skullduggery” from Yahoo News

Weld is most passionate about the president’s encroachments on the independence of the Justice Department. Thirty-one years ago this month, Weld made headlines when he resigned as assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, joining five other senior officials who left in protest over then Attorney General Edwin Meese’s stewardship of the department.

The complaint of Weld and his fellow protestors: The goal of nonpartisan independent law enforcement was being compromised by Meese, who was at the time under investigation for corruption allegations by a special prosecutor. “The same issue was at play—namely politicization of the Justice Department,” Weld said. “I spent five years as a US attorney and two years as head of the criminal division at main Justice, trying to keep the politics out of law enforcement.

“So that was an article of faith for me, and I let nothing interfere with that. And when I get to Washington and I see the Department being politicized, and it was. Our morning meeting around the AG’s table was as much about politics as it was about law enforcement.”

When Weld and his colleagues resigned, a department official told the New York Times, “These are truly resignations of conscience.” Shortly thereafter, Weld and Arnold Burns, who resigned as deputy attorney general, were called to explain themselves to the Senate — and the issue of loyalty was front and center. “And one of the senators asked me, “Mr. Weld, how could you possibly have done this thing?  Ed Meese brought you to Washington, and if nothing else, I would think the demands, the strictures of loyalty would prevent you from even considering such a move.”

“And I said what I always say. ‘Senator, I think that too often, particularly in this town [referring to Washington, D.C.], loyalty is simply an excuse for doing the wrong thing.’ Well, you could have heard a pin drop in the hearing room. And it was a cavernous room. No one in Washington wanted to hear that.”

 

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