Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld’s exploratory committee to take on President Trump drew plenty of press attention, but party leaders in the early primary states say there’s just no appetite for an anti-Trump candidate to emerge.
That’s particularly true if the candidate is going to be Mr. Weld, whose last successful election was a 1994 run for re-election as governor, and whose last run was a failed bid as the Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee in 2016.
“This is something Gov. Weld is interested in doing,” Brian Murphy, Republican Party chairman in Rockingham, New Hampshire, told The Washington Times. “There’s no groundswell within the Republican Party for it.”
The same was true in Iowa, home of the first caucuses, where Scott County GOP Chairwoman Linda Greenlee said Mr. Weld was “too low on the totem pole,” and in South Carolina, where Greenville County Chairman Nathan Leupp said he has no shot.
“I can’t imagine being the first in the South, and potentially still the third in the nation, that he’s going to get any traction in South Carolina,” Nathan Leupp, chairman of the party in Greenville County.
Mr. Weld, who switched his party affiliation back from Libertarian to Republican earlier this month, announced Friday he was considering a challenge to Mr. Trump.
He took the first formal step by forming an exploratory committee to raise money to test the waters.
He still has some relevance in New Hampshire, where the news market is dominated by Boston, but he’s struggling to be noticed in South Carolina and Iowa, where two local chairwomen were unaware he’d even announced his exploratory committee.
His party-switching also hasn’t played well.
“For him to claim he is a Republican, I think, is a joke,” said Chris Ager, chairman of the GOP in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. “I don’t think it’s a serious challenge at all and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.”
Mr. Weld has plenty of things working against him, not the least of them history. Although President Lyndon Johnson didn’t seek re-election in 1968, the last time a sitting president failed to get his party’s nomination was 1884, when these things were decided by party bosses in smoke-filled rooms.
Now, they’re settled by voters at caucuses and primaries — and Mr. Trump is massively popular with his base.
Across the board, local party leaders had nothing but praise for Mr. Trump, who they say has continued to deliver on his campaign promises for the past two years.
“I think even prominent Republican figures would not be able to successfully beat Trump in a primary,” said Justin Wasson, chairman of the local party in Linn County, Iowa. “I think his popularly is only growing.”
“He’s earned the right to have the confidence of the Republican Party going into 2020,” said Mr. Murphy in New Hampshire. “And based on that, there isn’t any Republican groundswell for someone, or an interest in drafting someone, to challenge our successful incumbent Republican president.”
Ms. Greenlee added that there may be a benefit to Mr. Weld’s bid, even though she doubted he would make a dent in the race. “It keeps an incumbent on their toes,” the Iowan said.
Some states may not give Mr. Weld that chance. In South Carolina, there is talk that the GOP could possibly scrap the primary altogether.
Larry Kobrovsky, chairman of the party in Charleston, told The Times that while there is precedent to cancel a primary, there has been no formal request to do so, much less a decision made.
“The nominating process belongs to the people,” he said.
Curtis Smith, chairman of the Spartanburg, South Carolina, party, said he would entertain the idea, while Mr. Leupp enthusiastically endorsed the idea.
“My personal opinion is that once the party chooses its nominee, and when that nominee becomes our president, then that person is the de facto head of our party. I believe that unless there’s an extreme circumstance that the party should support our nominee to the very end,” he said.
Republican leaders in New Hampshire thought canceling a primary went too far. While a primary may be unnecessary if no one ends up running against the president, Mr. Ager said the GOP should not discourage such elections.
“I don’t want to change the rules election to election,” Mr. Ager said.