(The following article was originally published in Newsweek.)
Bill Weld was a big name in American politics in the 1990s. With his red hair, ruddy complexion and 6-foot-4 frame, he stood out from the crowd of mostly blow-dried politicians. A celebrated prosecutor in Boston and then a top official in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the Republican was elected governor of very Democratic Massachusetts in 1990, and re-elected in 1994 with 71 percent of the vote. Fun and approachable, he once took a fully clothed dive into the Charles River to show how clean it had become. He wanted to run for president, but his socially liberal positions on abortion and gay rights made him an outlier in the GOP. “I looked at it hard in ’96,” Weld told Newsweek. But after analyzing which moderate states he might have won in the primaries, he realized, “I was still way short.”
Twenty years later, Weld, now 71, is back as the vice presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, having been selected to run with former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson by members who gathered in Orlando for their convention in May. The party, which usually is seen as a cranky afterthought in presidential races, took a big step toward making a difference in American politics this time by picking two former two-term Republican governors of blue states. The Johnson-Weld ticket is polling around 10 percent—well above the typical 1 percent the party managed to scrape up since its founding in 1971, but was shy of qualifying for the first presidential debate, which required at least 15 percent support in a number of polls. (Making that debate stage is seen as an essential springboard for independent candidates—such as Ross Perot, who won 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 election.) Still, Johnson and Weld have a shot at helping to determine who next sits in the Oval Office, if only as spoilers. So far, despite their Republican backgrounds, the Libertarian candidates have drawn more from Democrat Hillary Clinton than from Republican Donald Trump. But looking beyond this year, a larger question looms for libertarians: How far can a movement vowing to radically reduce government get in a country founded on individual freedom but with a citizenry that loves its student loans, Medicare and other government largesse?