WASHINGTON — Joe Walsh, the conservative radio show host and former Republican lawmaker from Illinois who rode the 2010 Tea Party wave to serve one term in Congress, announced Sunday that he is running for president, challenging President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.
Walsh announced his candidacy in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” while Trump was in Biarritz, France, for the Group of 7 meeting, where he admitted he had “second thoughts” about ratcheting up tariffs and threats against China last week — moves that rattled global stock markets — before his spokeswoman said his statement was being misinterpreted.
“We’ve got a guy in the White House who is unfit, completely unfit, to be president and it stuns me that nobody stepped up,” Walsh said in announcing his candidacy, claiming that “everyone” in the Republican Party believes Trump is not fit for the job.
Walsh’s decision to announce his candidacy on television, aides said, is a preview of a television-centric strategy designed to rattle a television-focused president with a rare challenge from within the party. Walsh, a former supporter and acerbic Clinton critic, in 2016 wrote on Twitter: “On November 9th, if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket. You in?”
Despite Walsh’s claim that many Republicans share his belief that Trump is unfit to serve, most polls show the president’s approval rating among Republican voters is consistently in the high 80s. Walsh stands virtually no chance of wresting the Republican presidential nomination away from Trump. But he framed his long shot primary challenge as a moral imperative to offer an alternative to Trump, and said that he is jumping in because “somebody needs to step up.”
Trump’s campaign has been working for over a year to make it virtually impossible for challengers to amass delegates, by tightening its stranglehold on state parties. The Trump campaign on Sunday simply shrugged off Walsh’s announcement. “Whatever,” Tim Murtaugh, a campaign spokesman, said in a text message.
For Walsh, it’s a question of what defines success. He has been trying to recruit high profile Trump-hating Republicans like George T. Conway III, the husband of a top Trump aide, Kellyanne Conway, in what is seen as an effort to troll Trump into engagement with him. And he is hoping that as a former supporter turned critic, he will encourage other Trump voters to split with the president and weaken his base.
In a two-minute video posted on his website, Walsh makes a direct-to-camera appeal, telling voters that “we’re tired of a president waking up every morning and tweeting ugly insults at ordinary Americans.” He adds, “We’re tired of a president who is tweeting this country into a recession.”
In throwing his hat in the ring, Walsh is joining William Weld, the genteel former governor of Massachusetts, whose own primary challenge to the president has gained little traction.
“I’m a conservative,” Walsh says in his announcement video. “I’m running because Donald Trump is not who we are. He’s the worst of who we are.”