On 5 October 2016, NYMag's "Daily Intelligencer" published an article reporting that Libertarian vice presidential candidate Bill Weld "essentially [gave] up" on running mate Gary Johnson in order to throw his support behind Hillary Clinton:
As some presumably small portion of Americans sat through a dull debate between the Republican and Democratic vice-presidential nominees, a far more interesting drama was unfolding within the Libertarian ticket. VP candidate Bill Weld told the Boston Globe that he plans to focus exclusively on attacking Donald Trump for the remainder of the campaign — essentially admitting that running mate Gary Johnson can not become president.
Apparently he avoided acknowledging that his new mission amounts to working to make Hillary Clinton president. He pointed out that he disagrees with Clinton on fiscal and military issues, though on MSNBC he said he’s “not sure anybody is more qualified than Hillary Clinton to be president of the United States.”
Swinging between inferences and creative interpretations of Weld's remarks, the article continued on to state:
It’s shocking for a candidate to admit defeat five weeks before the election, even though Johnson is at just 7.4 percent nationally in the Real Clear Politics polling average. However, Weld’s move doesn’t exactly constitute “going rogue,” since earlier in the day Johnson admitted in a CNN interview, “I guess I wasn’t meant to be president.” The Libertarian nominee was trying to argue that his lack of foreign-policy knowledge is an asset five days after he was unable to name a world leader he admires. Johnson described that as another “Aleppo moment,” referring to a previous gaffe in which he failed to recognize the name of the besieged Syrian city.
The gaffes led many to say Weld should be at the top of the ticket, and Weld strategists reportedly looked into the possibility of doing that, only to be shot down by Johnson.
Weld insists that he’s not abandoning Johnson, and that his running mate is fully in support of his strategy shift. “I have had in mind all along trying to get the Donald into third place, and with some tugging and hauling, we might get there,” he said.
However, Weld’s claim that there’s no discord on the Libertarian ticket wasn’t very convincing. He also suggested to the Globe that he may abandon the Libertarian party in the future.
The piece was peppered with malleable language such as "apparently [Weld] avoided [stating such]," Weld "essentially" admitted he was no longer actively seeking to win, or he "suggested" he might abandon the party. The article was based on a Boston Globe interview published on 4 October 2016, which contained similar speculative content but hinged only on Weld's purportedly pledging to strike harder at Republican candidate Donald Trump:
The Libertarian vice presidential candidate, William F. Weld, said that he plans to focus exclusively on blasting Donald Trump over the next five weeks, a strategic pivot aimed at denying Trump the White House and giving himself a key role in helping to rebuild the GOP.
Rumors of Weld's defection were not new: in late September 2016, multiple news outlets covered nearly identical "reports" that Weld planned to drop out and support Clinton. At the time those rumors were floated, Weld strongly denied them and asserted that the claims were a public relations move engineered by the Clinton campaign:
Libertarian vice presidential candidate Bill Weld said he was inundated with dozens of phone calls and emails [in late September] telling him to drop out of his campaign for the White House, after rumors were “planted” by Hillary Clinton’s team that he might drop out of the race and endorse Clinton.
“Obviously the call had gone out from somewhere,” Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, said today during an appearance on Boston Herald Radio. “And I’ve got to think directly or indirectly, it’s from the Clinton campaign.”
Asked about speculation that Weld might drop off the ticket after the party’s low poll numbers barred Johnson from inclusion in [the] first debate, Weld said that rumor was “completely planted by the Clinton campaign.”
A similar Daily Intelligencer piece appeared one day after the original Boston Globe article, and Weld addressed the latter on Twitter (prior to claims he'd dropped out or "thrown in the towel"):
What ISN'T reported here is my assurance, to the reporter, that my "L" hat remains firmly in place. https://t.co/ljdAhl1cB6 via @BostonGlobe
— Gov. Bill Weld (@GovBillWeld) October 4, 2016
Following Weld's second denial that he was abandoning the Libertarian party or ticket, he campaigned via Twitter throughout the 5 October 2016 vice presidential debate, tweeting:
15 Reasons Why A Vote For Gov. Gary Johnson Matters https://t.co/hLVq25gpBc #YouIn? #teamgov #letgarydebate — Gov. Bill Weld (@GovBillWeld) October 5, 2016
That morning, he appeared on WNYC's The Takeaway to discuss the active campaign and in the first minute of the interview affirmed his intent to continue running with Johnson. An interviewer asked if there was talk of his dropping out, to which he said yes, adding: "I think [those rumors are] coming from the Clinton campaign":
The Democratic Party, if it gets in office, the horror show is they [would] spend and borrow us into the poor house. We hollow out the economy and that hurts us in terms of jobs at home, and it hurts our standing economically, not just diplomatically, in the world at large. The horror show if the Republicans get in is The Donald stays up all night tweeting and unilaterally imposes huge tariffs and declares trade wars and sows trouble with our allies and makes sure there’s greater nuclear proliferation, and does everything the opposite of what the Republican Party decided after 2012 it needed to do. I think the danger posed by Mr. Trump on the international side is probably the biggest danger I see out there.
Bill Weld was asked if he worried Johnson's candidacy was "taking votes" from Clinton, to which he responded with advocacy of his ticket. The former Massuchusetts governor made the case for the Libertarian ticket again at length, stating that increasing criticism of third-party voting from Republicans and Democrats was an "argument that assumes its own conclusion, and it disregards the fact that Johnson and Weld [are viable alternatives]." Weld repeatedly emphasized and promoted the Johnson/Weld ticket and did not express support for Hillary Clinton. He also confirmed that the Libertarian candidates had no intentions of repealing Obamacare.
On 5 October 2016, Weld issued a statement via Facebook affirming the claim was false:
In a story published in the Boston Globe, much attention was given to my grave concerns about the prospect of Donald Trump inhabiting the White House, and my determination to keep that from happening. The story did not, unfortunately, focus on my assurance that I believe Gary Johnson to be the best candidate for President, and that I would not be on the ticket with him if that were not the case. My Libertarian hat is firmly planted on my head, and will remain there.
Gary Johnson and I are committed to offering voters a way to break up the two-party duopoly that has given us policy paralysis and divisiveness with which most Americans cannot identify. If one of the results of what we are doing is that the two so-called major parties temper their hyper-partisanship, then so be it. That would be a good thing for the country.
Let there be no doubt. I am the Libertarian nominee for Vice-President, proudly running with Gov. Gary Johnson, and both Gary and I will be running hard and making our case right up until the polls close on November 8. Our ambition is to serve our country.
Concurrently, Weld spoke with Reason's Matt Welch about the rumors. In that exchange, Weld further addressed speculation he planned to leave the Libertarian party:
But in a follow-up interview with Reason this afternoon, Weld denied that he was pivoting, denied that he would be focusing "exclusively" on Trump, and denied that he was working on any political future outside the Libertarian Party.
"I said to the reporter that I plan to focus on Donald Trump, because I think his international proposals represent a grave threat," Weld told me, "but in the same breath I said that I'm not going to omit to make the points that Mrs. Clinton, if she were elected, runs the risk of spending and borrowing us into the poorhouse, and that I think her fiscal policies and her military policies are not at all in line with the approach that Gary Johnson and I will take if elected. So nothing is to the exclusion of anything else. I did convey to the Globe the idea that I would be emphasizing the respects in which I think Mr. Trump's international proposals are wrong-headed, but that's nothing new—I've been saying that since Day One ... "I mean, I'm going be tomorrow in Massachusetts, the next two days in New Hampshire, and then in Maine," he continued. "Those are not red states the last time I looked."
Of particular sensitivity to Libertarians, given Weld's star-crossed history with the party and ideological departures from libertarianism, was this sentence in the Globe article: "He insisted he was not abandoning Johnson, although he signaled that bolting from the Libertarian Party might be a possibility in the future." Weld's response? "No, that's the most made-up of any of these phrases ... My impression is that some in the media, and definitely both of the establishment parties, would love to get me off that ticket," Weld told me. "And I don't know whether it's so that Mrs. Clinton can sleep easier, or whether it's so that Mr. Trump can sleep better—clearly he's been having trouble sleeping—but it could be both. If so, I'm flattered."
On 25 October 2016, Weld issued a statement about the presidential campaign, strongly criticizing Trump but stopping short of endorsing Clinton:
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.
Throughout this campaign, Mr. Trump has demonstrated an inability to handle criticism or blame well. His first instinct is to lash out at others. When challenged, he often responds as a child might. He makes a sour face, he calls people by insulting names, he waves his arms, he impatiently interrupts. Most families would not allow their children to remain at the dinner table if they behaved as Mr. Trump does. He has not exhibited the self-control, the discipline, or the emotional depth necessary to function credibly as a President of the United States.
From the beginning of his campaign, Mr. Trump has conjured up enemies. First it was eleven million criminals in our midst, all bent on obtaining the benefits of citizenship, at our expense. Over time, the enemies became any trading partner of the United States. He says they are nothing but foreigners seeking to threaten our livelihoods. Now we have reached the point where his idea of America’s enemies includes almost anyone who talks or looks different from him. The goal of the Trump campaign, from the outset, has been to stir up envy, resentment, and group hatred.
This is the worst of American politics. 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.
However, while he cautioned against voting for Trump, Weld did not announce that he or Johnson were dropping out of the presidential race.