Joe Walsh is a joke–just not the funny kind. As Jerry Dunleavy recently reported in the Washington Examiner, Walsh, who announced a primary challenge to Donald Trump earlier this week, has a long and recent history of racist, ridiculous, and mind-numbingly stupid public statements. This alone would not make his candidacy notable. However, the fact that he seems to genuinely believe that he has the moral high ground against Trump, and the fact that he’s being boosted by limpid reverse-luminaries like Bill Kristol, makes it sadly newsworthy.
Walsh’s candidacy is worth mentioning because it’s symptomatic of the current political moment. Unfortunately, the current political moment looks a lot like the last political moment: Republican Never Trumpers of the sort who might back Walsh have learned nothing, just like the effete Democratic Party has learned nothing. (Although to the Democrats’ credit, they’re at least advancing candidates who are presenting new ideas and speaking for working families and ordinary people. Some are even challenging the usual political paradigms, like Marianne Williamson, who is asking that the wellbeing of families be put over profits. Even if she’s saying it from the left, at least she’s saying it!)
But Walsh is just more of the tired old machine. What is it with the Beltway bros and their professional expertise at losing? Evan McMullen’s Hallmark card campaign comes to mind, as does David French’s half-cocked nod at a run last cycle. And now…Joe Walsh? This is the best they could come up with? A radio shock jock who got tricked by Sacha Baron Cohen into saying that arming kindergarten students was a good idea? We are clearly dealing with a real brain genius here—but what about the bug-eyed buffoons backing him? Who is paying them to lose?
Nonetheless, intelligence isn’t everything. At least Walsh has core convictions and some backbone, right? Wrong. He’s changed his mind more often than Trump, waffling on everything from abortion to the equality of black Americans (“uneducated government slaves”) to the unfairness of it not being more acceptable for white people to use the n-word. Life is hard, folks.
Walsh has also repositioned from a promise to lead an armed resistance if Hillary Clinton was elected president to calling Trump a “malignant narcissist,” “sexual predator,” “psychopath,” “incompetent boob,” and “bigot.” The thing is, the “he’s a bad person, don’t elect him” line was tried (about 500 times) in 2016 by both sides, and it failed. Badly. Why would anyone attempt that tack again? Do they want to lose or do their establishment wings have nothing else to offer? Further, does Walsh not feel the rush of saccharine self-righteousness overflowing him like a mighty river as he preaches or is this all just some kind of cynically staged pathetic publicity stunt? Perhaps a bit of both. This is politics in 2019, and sad to say, it makes 2006’s Idiocracy look like an optimistic prediction of the future.
When he’s not busy maligning the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims as terrorists and fanatical freaks, Walsh has enjoyed dabbling in the absurd birther theory about President Barack Obama, peddled by both Hillary Clinton and Trump. Another of Walsh’s greatest hits was his claim that the election of Barack Obama was “the single greatest act of racism in American history.” But now he’s horrified by “immoral” rhetoric? When Walsh calls Trump a “racial arsonist,” then what is Walsh? The man with the flamethrower.
The 57-year-old ex-congressman from Illinois has already been mocked by Trump as a one-term failure in Congress who couldn’t keep his radio show profitable. Walsh came to power during the Tea Party surge in 2010 before being beaten in 2012 by Tammy Duckworth. He’s been hinting that he’ll run for president since early August. Walsh has called Trump a “child,” implying somewhat unfairly that he is an adult by comparison. And to be fair, Walsh does have a point about the massive additions to the national debt that the president is making—a direct contradiction to Trump’s campaign promises to cut the debt. If Hillary Clinton was going to break the presidential glass ceiling, Trump appears intent on breaking the debt ceiling. Nonetheless, somehow it doesn’t seem like the battle cry of “fiscal responsibility” will be the ace card in this election, particularly as the right plays games talking about the massive expenses of health care and social services while writing a permanent blank check to foreign military adventurism.
Moreover, Walsh says the upcoming election is “not about the issues” but rather the unacceptable insults and behavior of Trump. This will be news to the millions of voters for whom the election is very much is about the issues. Walsh admits he “helped create Trump.” He’s been playing the apology game that the liberal media loves. But there’s no reason to take him any more seriously than any other firebrand blowhard. Walsh couldn’t even coordinate calls with his alleged campaign manager Jacob Perry right before announcing his run, leaving Perry without a clue what to do right as he was needed most. Good luck in the PEOC during a real emergency or fielding calls from foreign leaders in the middle of a tense international crisis.
With his campaign now being run by GOP strategist Lucy Caldwell, Walsh has made it clear that his old offensive tweets won’t be deleted and that he’s not going to back away from his record. Caldwell has defended him as “exceptionally authentic” and Kellyanne Conway’s anti-Trump husband George Conway has spoken out in support of Walsh. It’s a regular who’s-who of GOP stuffed suits. Even timid polls indicate that more than 80 percent of Republicans support Trump, so it’s unclear what Walsh is doing other than a pulling a publicity stunt full of what he terms “bravery” and the “personal, ugly politics” that he says now he regrets. (What Bill Weld is doing with his primary run other than grandstanding is also unclear.)
How would Walsh actually differ from Trump? He vaguely claims that he would be better, better fiscally, better on the border. Perhaps he’d give the detained kids more toys. This guy isn’t to be taken seriously, but the self-righteous streak he represents should be because it’s delusional and dangerous. Trump came about because of the vacuum created by establishment politics and the opposition to him thus far has been largely inadequate and incompetent. There are many Democratic examples of this, from Cory Booker to John Hickenlooper (Johnny, we hardly knew ye); Walsh is a Republican example.
To be sure, Walsh’s offensive statements—like Trump’s—are not what will electorally disqualify him. Rather, it is the fact that he has no platform of any kind other than “Trump is bad” while also admitting that he used to be bad, too. It’s a copy-paste “redemption story” that’s unlikely to hit home, especially since many who might back Walsh already back Trump and will only be turned off by his apology tour. The Tea Party is now the Trump party. Republicans like Walsh can’t trump Trump because they’ve never really grasped the dynamic and paradoxical nature of his appeal.
Yet in spite of that, we should thank Walsh for the profound lesson of his cankerous campaign. Every day in every way, we must be ready to be dumbfounded by dumbness, for the future is here and it is incredibly stupid.
Paul Brian is a freelance journalist. He has reported for the BBC, Reuters, and Foreign Policy, and contributed to The Week, The Federalist, and others. You can follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian or visit his website www.paulrbrian.com.