Less than 20 months away from the next presidential election, much press coverage is being given to the panoply of candidates for the Democratic nomination. However, there is an equally interesting, if far less close, competition developing over in the Republican camp. Bill Weld has announced in the last month that he will challenge Donald Trump for the right to be the Republican presidential nominee. Whilst the public perception of the Republican party seems to be that it has drifted dramatically to the authoritarian right, Bill Weld represents an alternative vision of what the American right can be and quite possibly will be with the change in generational social attitudes and demographics America is seeing.
Bill Weld, governor of Massachusetts from 1991 until 1997, presents an interesting combination of viewpoints that couldn't be more different from the Republican establishment. He supports abortion rights and made it more accessible when he was governor, he supports gay marriage, wishes to end the war on drugs and supports the Paris Climate Agreement. He combines this enthusiasm for social liberty with a robust defence of free markets and a desire to cut the deficit and slash taxes. This ideology of both economic and social freedom rejects the intellectual inconsistencies of arguing that people should be allowed freedom in one but not the other.
Sadly for those of a more libertarian-inclined viewpoint, Bill Weld is highly unlikely to win the nomination, with the Republican National Committee endorsing Trump to fight the 2020 election. Nevertheless, Weld’s ideas and viewpoint perhaps offer us an insight into what mainstream right wing politics will look like in America’s future as social attitudes change.
These attitudes are evidenced by a recent study for Pew Research into American social attitudes across generations, showing that only 15% of millennials think gay marriage is a bad thing compared to 84% who say that it is either good or doesn’t make a difference. On increased diversity 61% of millennials and 62% of Generation Z believe it is a good thing, compared to just 42% of the silent generation. On issues like legalisation of marijuana, Weld is also in agreement 62% of Americans.
Demographics are also an important factor in determining the future of the American right with census predictions suggesting the country will no longer be a majority white country by 2045. This demonstrates the increasing importance minorities will have in American elections and the increasing problems the Republicans may have in winning them over if it continues its divisive nationalist politics. More socially liberal candidates would seem to be the answer.
The neo-mercantilist, authoritarian and divisive politics of Donald Trump represent an existential threat to the future of American Conservatism. The argument that one can support economic but not social freedom has always been rife with inconsistencies, but these contradictions have yet to come home to roost. Weld’s chances look extraordinarily slim when stacked against the President’s sizable 89% approval rating amongst Republicans, so whilst it’s unlikely the politics of Weld and others like him will become immediately relevant they might just offer us a glimpse into the future.