Libertarian VP nominee Bill Weld kinda sorta endorses Hillary

Earlier this month he said he’d spend the rest of the campaign attacking Trump exclusively, then had to issue a follow-up statement insisting that he’d campaign diligently for the Libertarian Party after libertarians accused him of disloyalty to their cause. Weld has always been a libertarian in name only: He’s a moderate Massachusetts Republican chosen by Gary Johnson as his VP because the two are pals and because Johnson thought that a ticket with governing experience top to bottom would be an attractive contrast to Clinton and Trump for voters. But Johnson’s poll numbers are fading, and Weld and Clinton have been friends for 40 years. Late last month, Weld told Chris Matthews that he wasn’t sure if anyone is more qualified to be president than she is — with Johnson sitting right next to him. So now he faces a dilemma. With little chance of a big showing for libertarians still left, does he continue to campaign hard for his ticket, knowing that Johnson is probably drawing slightly more on balance from Clinton than from Trump, or does he cut the libertarians loose and encourage people to vote for his pal Hillary?

Weld’s compromise: He put out a statement yesterday in which he said that if you “remain torn between two so-called major party candidates,” the candidate you ultimately vote for shouldn’t be Trump. It’s an endorsement of Clinton, albeit a conditional one.

“A President of the United States operates every day under a great deal of pressure — from all sides, and in furtherance of many different agendas. With that pressure comes constant criticism.

“After careful observation and reflection, I have come to believe that Donald Trump, if elected President of the United States, would not be able to stand up to this pressure and this criticism without becoming unhinged and unable to perform competently the duties of his office.

“Mr. Trump has some charisma and panache, and intellectual quickness. These qualities can be entertaining. Yet more than charisma, more even than intellectual ability, is required of a serious candidate for this country’s highest office. A serious candidate for the Presidency of the United States must be stable, and Donald Trump is not stable…

“I fear for our cohesion as a nation, and for our place in the world, if this man who is unwilling to say he will abide by the result of our national election becomes our President.”

Well, no harm done to Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party, right? They ran their race, things didn’t go as well as they had hoped, and now Weld’s trying to salvage what he sees as the next most optimal outcome. Not so fast, though — there is something at stake for them on Election Day, something that could give them a major boost in further building their national profile in 2020. Bill Scher:

If Johnson snags 5 percent of the national popular vote, the Federal Election Commission will classify the Libertarians as an official “minor party,” granting the 2020 nominee a lump sum of cash for the fall campaign, courtesy of the American taxpayer. (And don’t you think for a second that the vehemently anti-big-government Libertarians won’t cash that big government check in a heartbeat.)

The exact amount of federal funds depends on the size of his vote, but Green Party officials – who have been chasing 5 percent for years – estimate that meeting the threshold would yield about $10 million. That may seem like chump change compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars major party presidential nominees routinely raise. But Johnson has gotten this far after raising only $8 million through August. The prospect of knowing the Libertarian Party’s nominee is guaranteed $10 million will allow him or her to hit the campaign trail running, improving the odds of getting into the debates, winning an even larger share of vote and fortifying the party’s place in the American political landscape.

Johnson’s averaging 5.8 percent in the four-way race today, but he’s been under the five-percent threshold in two of the last five national polls and right at five percent in another. If, as expected, the third-party candidates continue to leach votes back to Trump and Clinton over the final two weeks, Johnson will need every ballot he can scrounge to make the five-percent cut-off. Although Weld’s statement is directed explicitly at people who have already ruled out the Libertarian ticket, you can imagine an undecided voter who’s trying to decide between Clinton and Johnson to lean towards the Democrat in light of Weld’s argument that Trump is singularly unqualified. How damaging you think his statement is depends, I guess, on how influential you think an announcement like this is coming from the Libertarian VP. My hunch: Not very, although if Team Clinton decides to amplify it somehow, maybe it’ll give some undecideds and third-party voters pause.

Here’s something funny from The Onion about Gary Johnson’s blown opportunity this year. Exit question via James Antle: Has Mitt Romney’s personal loyalty to his friend Bill Weld prevented him from endorsing Evan McMullin in Utah? Now that Weld has dissolved some of his own loyalty to the Libertarian ticket, does that free Romney up?