November 05, 2016

Former Massachusetts Governor and current Libertarian nominee for Vice President William F. Weld recently made the assertion that he would be campaigning primarily to defeat Donald Trump. According to Michael Levenson and Frank Phillips’ October 4 story in the Boston Globe, the Weld family fortune scion and Bush family business associate has “denounced Trump as a ‘huckster’ with a ‘screw loose’ and has said his plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants ‘would remind me of Anne Frank hiding in the attic.’” However, a look back at Weld's own political positions and rhetoric reveals some interesting parallels between the rhetoric of Trump and Weld.

In some of my past research, I transcribed Weld’s statements from C-Span footage of his campaigns and time in office, and I recently compared some of his remarks to Trump’s public political statements in the last several years.


The 1996 “Welfare Reform” bill the Republicans ultimately passed and was signed into law has been recently criticized for its failures, and indeed for exacerbating poverty. In a defiant public statement at the U.S. Capitol building in 1995, in protest of the Clinton Administration’s refusal to grant Weld’s request to impose a two-year time limit on public assistance benefits, Weld said in his prepared remarks, with the support of Republican Senators Trent Lott, Bob Dole, and Phil Gramm standing with him at this press conference:  “We need tough work requirements. If you don’t give people on welfare a deadline to go to work, on the whole, they don’t. I would suggest history has proven that over time.”

Trump’s sentiment in the 2015 edition of his book, Time to Get Tough, seems to be in total agreement: “The secret to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act’s success was that it tied welfare to work. To get your check, you had to prove that you were enrolled in job-training or trying to find work.”


Mandatory minimum sentencing has been acknowledged as one of the chief drivers of mass incarceration, told most eloquently in Michelle Alexander’s tome, The New Jim Crow. Weld championed mandatory minimums during his 1996 State of the Commonwealth Address: “You do hear the argument these days that mandatory minimums interfere with judge’s discretion. And I say, that’s right, that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do.”This was not a new position for Weld. At one of his re-election rallies in 1994, Weld had proclaimed to a cheering crowd: “The people of this state were fearful of crime. Well, we abolished early release on parole, we toughened up and we lengthened criminal sentences, and we built more prison cells so we could lock up the bad guys longer.”

Trump has made mandatory minimum sentencing for undocumented immigrants one of the planks of his electoral platform, as he mentioned in his August 15 speech in Phoenix:

“On my first day in office, I am also going to ask Congress to pass “Kate’s Law” — named for Kate Steinle — to ensure that criminal aliens convicted of illegal re-entry receive strong mandatory minimum sentences. Strong, and then we get ’em out.”


In an October 1994 re-election rally, Weld proclaimed his accomplishments during his first four years, on welfare: “The people wanted the welfare system reformed. Well, we got in there, we kicked convicted criminals and drug abusers off the rolls! And we will continue fighting until every able-bodied person is working for a paycheck, not just collecting a welfare check.”

From Trump’s September 15, 2016 speech to the New York Economic Club, speaking about his opponent, Hillary Clinton: “The only thing she can ever offer is a welfare check.  Our plan will produce paychecks, and they’re going to be great paychecks, and they’re going to be great paychecks for millions of people now unemployed.”


Weld and Trump have both used the rhetorical device of shaming recipients of federal social programs.  In his 1996 address, Weld shared the contents of a letter from a young mother, whom he had invited to his address. “‘I understand, if I was on welfare, I could go to a training school free. I could get a daycare voucher. I could get food stamps and a check every two weeks, Mr. Weld. That sounds to me, Mr. Weld, like luxury! Can you explain to me why I should not quit my job and go on welfare?’”

Trump wrote on his Twitter account in 2012: “Obama our Welfare & Food Stamp President, is praising himself for expanding welfare […]He doesn’t believe in work.”

In 2013, Trump tweeted, “No cuts to welfare, no cuts to food stamps & NOT A SINGLE CUT TO OBAMACARE, yet the new budget cuts military benefits. Sad!”

In response to a heckler Trump remarked to his audience in November 2015, “You know, it’s amazing. I mention food stamps and that guy who’s seriously overweight went crazy.”


Also in his 1996 address, Governor Weld went on to discuss at length the evils of “illegitimacy” while copiously reciting teen pregnancy statistics.  “A 16 year old recently told the Boston Globe that the main reason some of her teenage friends were having babies out of wedlock was to get welfare benefits.”

Trump displayed an analogous sentiment about the phenomenon of natural-born United States citizens born into undocumented immigrant families: “A woman gets pregnant. She’s nine months, she walks across the border, she has the baby in the United States, and we take care of the baby for 85 years…I don’t think so.”

In the 1990s, Weld was locking up “bad guys” and punishing “people on welfare.” In the 2016 campaign, Trump’s wants to expel “criminal aliens” and condemn the so-called “Welfare & Food Stamp President.”

Another Boston Globe piece on Weld, by Neil Swidey and also from October 4, mused that “Donald Trump may brag that he has ‘the best words,’ but Weld truly does.”

If Trump continues to use Weld’s old ideas, is there really a difference?

Daniel T. Kirsch holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, specializing in American Government and Public Law.  Having served as an Associate Professor at Valley Forge Military College in Pennsylvania, he now lives in Davis, California, where he is working on a book project on the politics of student loans. He can be reached at danieltkirsch@gmail.com.

Bill Weld, Donald Trump

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