Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld broke the ice at Keene State College Tuesday by complimenting the Owls’ liberal arts curriculum, and recalling his Greek and Latin studies as a youngster.

The opening was fitting for a conservative facing a task many would consider Sisyphean — taking on a sitting president who enjoys the highest approval rating among Republicans in the history of modern polling, save for President George W. Bush after 9/11.

But the former Massachusetts governor rejects that characterization.

“The campaign is only going in one direction,” he asserted in Gilsum a couple of months ago; presumably up.

Standing in front of more than two dozen students and voters in Keene State’s flag room at dusk Tuesday, Weld presented his usual set of fiscally conservative, socially liberal policy positions, along with a hybrid principles-plus-results argument for challenging Trump.

“It’s part of the reason that I’m running,” Weld said of what he describes as dangerously divisive rhetoric coming from the president that has energized Republican voters. “I don’t want to say to my children and grandchildren, ‘I did nothing to stop this.’ “

Before taking questions from the audience, Weld ticked down his disagreements with Trump and the GOP, which he argues has fashioned itself into the former reality TV star’s image.

Weld is pro-choice on abortion.

He favors environmental regulation and taking measures to combat climate change — like putting a price on carbon and giving taxpayers a rebate instead of the government taking in revenue as a tax — rather than the deregulation that has steamed ahead under Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Weld wants to protect LGBTQ rights and reverse the Trump administration’s decision to ban transgender troops from the military.

He wants to rekindle U.S. relations with allies instead of complimenting dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

But as to how Weld would put a stop to the dangers he sees in Trump’s White House by running his own GOP campaign instead of supporting a Democrat, he makes a consequentialist argument that eclipses his moderate conservative principles.

“I’m making an argument to unaffiliated and Democratic voters [in open primary states] to come in and vote in the Republican primary, ideally for me, but for somebody, anybody,” Weld said. “... And that will send the message that we want a Republican Party that will return to the values that it had ever since the end of World War II.”

In previous interviews with The Sentinel, Weld has also made the case that the mere presence of his campaign up against the president’s could put enough of a dent in Trump’s re-election chances to ensure a one-term presidency.

He cites the most recent examples of Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush being “primaried” by Sen. Ted Kennedy and conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan, respectively.

Weld added that he’s “very pleased” that two more Republicans have launched primary bids against Trump recently: Mark Sanford, who served as governor of South Carolina before representing that state in the U.S. House; and Joe Walsh, a former congressman and talk show host from Illinois. Down the line, Weld said he expects the three will have televised debates, regardless of whether Trump shows up.

Reviews from the students who turned out to see Weld Tuesday were mixed.

Ben Kelly, a freshman prospective film major from Brookline, Vt., said Weld’s man-without-a-party message resonated with him.

Kelly said he identifies as conservative on most issues, “but I wouldn’t consider myself to be — I don’t agree at all with what conservatism has become in 2019.”

The freshman said he did not know much about Weld heading into the event beyond that he was running against Trump, but liked what he heard.

“I’m interested,” Kelly said, “because of really what he said tonight about having sort of mixed positions [on liberal and conservative issues], that did resonate with me because I also have positions I take from both sides.”

Three of the more-liberal students in attendance were not as impressed.

“He’s a little too slow,” said Erica Eisner, a sophomore Holocaust and genocide studies major from Duxbury, Mass. “He seems very old-school Republican. I don’t believe that’s what we need in office.”

“He’s low energy,” chimed in Daniel Herrero, a freshman from Amherst who is undecided on a major.

However, the students still found value in hearing Weld out.

“I think he was the best of the bunch, out of the Republicans [on the national stage],” Herrero added.

“It’s a quote-unquote improvement [over Trump], but not exactly what we’re hungry for,” said Nathaniel Jarvie, a junior geography major from Branford, Conn.

Nevertheless, Kelly, Eisner, Herrero and Jarvie agreed they feel lucky to be on Keene State’s campus in a presidential primary year.

“Looking around, I want to see as many of [the candidates] as I can,” Herrero said. “I’m gonna see the Republicans too, because I want to get the experience of the campaign.”

“Exactly, that’s why I’m here too,” Jarvie jumped in before Herrero finished his thought.

“It’s good to keep an open mind,” Herrero said. “Like, I may not agree with all of these people, but it’s good to see them, at least.”

Jake Lahut can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or jlahut@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @JakeLahut.