Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee, says for proponents of free trade, there’s only one game in town this year.
“We’re the only free trade ticket in the race,” Mr. Weld told The Washington Times on Wednesday near the site of the Democratic National Convention.
Mr. Weld, the ticket mate of Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson, said he supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he lauded former President Bill Clinton for successfully getting the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed during his presidency.
“That was done with Republican votes, and Bill Clinton pulled it off, and I think it was an enduring part of his legacy,” Mr. Weld said.
That might not exactly be welcome praise for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who has tacked left on trade during her primary contest against Sen. Bernard Sanders.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe also created a stir this week when he said he thought Mrs. Clinton would flip and support the trade pact after the election — comments both the Clinton campaign and Mr. McAuliffe quickly tried to walk back.
Mr. Sanders and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump are also on record as opposing the TPP. Those two men have also criticized NAFTA.
“I say that they’re mistaken and President Bill Clinton was right,” Mr. Weld said. “Free trade, over the years, has served the United States very well. We are the most productive country in the world per worker, and that means where there’s [flat] free trade, we’re always going to get more high-wage jobs.
“Trump is saying ‘let’s throw free trade in the wastebasket, let’s have a closed economy,’” he said. “Somebody should lend this guy a set of history books. That was tried in the ‘20s, and it led to the Great Depression.”
Some opponents of the TPP, which President Obama supports, fear that pro-trade Republicans could muscle it through Congress in a lame-duck session after the November election.
Mr. Weld said he wasn’t sure if that would happen, but that there certainly are supporters to be found.
“I’m convinced TPP is good policy. I’m not sure that the rank-and-file members in Congress agree with Mr. Trump” that it isn’t, he said. “Until quite recently, you thought of the Republican Party as the free trade party. It’s just Mr. Trump that’s gone off the reservation.”
He said he isn’t in favor of demonizing China like Mr. Trump has, but said the country is undoubtedly a world power to be reckoned with.
“It brings us in under the rubric, under the tent of a free trade area with 11 nations … in Asia that does not include China,” he said. “So it’s almost like an informal economic alliance with those 11 countries. So it’s more than a beachhead — it’s planting the flag, economic flag, big-time in Asia, and that’s worth a lot to us.”
Mr. Johnson, with Mr. Weld’s assistance, is still working to drum up his name identification enough to achieve the 15 percent polling threshold he’ll need to get into the presidential debates.
Mr. Weld said fundraising has been picking up recently, and predicted they would get to 15 percent — at which point some big-time potential donors might come off the sidelines.
“It’s definitely picking up,” he said. “I think that some of the very big fish are waiting to see if we hit 15 percent. We’ve now gotten to 13 [percent]. Gary Johnson looks like he’s going to win the state of Utah outright. All these are more than straws in the wind. I think the money [will] be there at the end of the day.”