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Joe Walsh addresses inflammatory tweets, says he can save GOP from Trump

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On Sunday, former Republican congressman Joe Walsh jumped into the 2020 presidential fray to challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican primary.

Walsh served one term representing suburban Chicago in Congress from 2011 to 2013 as part of the Tea Party movement within the GOP, which advocated for extremely limited government. After his stint in Congress, Walsh became a prominent conservative radio show host.

While Walsh voted for and initially supported Trump, he had a change of heart in the summer of 2017 and quickly rose to become one of the most prominent anti-Trump critics on the right.

“No surprise, we’ve got a guy in the White House who is unfit to be president … Everybody believes that he’s unfit, he lies every time he opens his mouth,” Walsh told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

Read more: Tea Party firebrand and former GOP Rep. Joe Walsh announces he’s running against Trump in the 2020 Republican primary

Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld is also challenging Trump in the GOP primary, but his low-key presence and moderate beliefs have failed to make much of a splash among Republican primary voters.

While Trump enjoys sky-high approval among Republicans, Walsh is betting on his bombastic personality and conservative convictions to win over primary voters who are “tired” of Trump and the daily controversies and scandals that roil his administration.

But as Walsh geared up to launch his candidacy, many of his own previous controversial statements and tweets on issues like race and religion re-surfaced.

Walsh thoroughly apologized for many tweets, including ones in which he accused former President Barack Obama of being a Muslim, but they may still cast doubt on whether Walsh was the right candidate to make the moral case against Trump.

On Monday, Walsh spoke to Insider politics reporter Grace Panetta about why he chose to run for president and take on Trump, some of his past controversial tweets that have resurfaced in recent days, and how he views the state of the GOP today.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Walsh disavows white nationalist, but has no regrets over using the ‘n-word’ to make point about the Washington Redskins’ name

Insider: What have your first 24 hours as a presidential candidate been like, what kind of a reaction you’ve gotten, and how it’s been to be rocketed into the national spotlight?

Joe Walsh: It’s felt like we’ve been on a rocketship. I think there’s hunger for [Trump] to be tested in the Republican primary. The reaction’s been all over the map. Good, bad, and ugly, but there’s been a lot of reactions.

Insider: There’s been quite a bit of debate and controversy within the conservative movement over your candidacy and whether you’re the right messenger to take on Trump.

I wanted to ask you about a photograph that’s been circulating around of you with the white nationalist Paul Nehlen, who you hosted on your radio show in August of 2017 and where you encouraged your listeners to go to his website and get behind him. Given his racist and anti-Semitic views, do you regret that decision and do you disavow Nehlen?

Walsh: I remember when Nehlen first challenged Paul Ryan in one of the primaries, I supported him. I mean, my wife’s Jewish, I’m hugely pro-Israel, as soon as I found out or learned about his white nationalist bullshit and his anti-Semitism, I had nothing to do with him.

Insider: And that was after he appeared on your show in August of 2017?

Walsh: Yeah, I never had anything to do with him once it became clear who he was. None of us conservatives really knew that about him. I think it was after he lost that first primary to Ryan, then he kind of kind of came out as a weird alt-right, anti-Semite kind of guy and I never had anything to do with him.

Read more: More than half of all Americans think Donald Trump fuels white supremacy

Insider: Other messages and tweets are resurfacing in which you used the n-word multiple times in the year 2014 in reference to the Washington Redskins. You said like words like “cracker” and “redneck Bible thumper” were okay, but the n-word was not. Do you regret saying those things about the n-word?

Walsh: No. And actually that’s a good one, that’s an easy one to explain. When I did that, people who were insisting that the Washington Redskins should change their name, they called the Redskins the new n-word. And I said, bull, Redskins isn’t the new n-word. The n-word has a uniquely ugly history in our country. There is no word like the n-word.

And to make that point, I was very right there in your face. I can say that right on the air, I can write “Redskins” and that won’t catch anybody’s eye.

Walsh stands by calling Haiti a ‘shithole’ in a 2018 tweet

Insider: Do you still stand by your echoing President Trump and calling Haiti “a shithole” in a January 2018 tweet?

Walsh: I mean, it’s got nothing to do with race, but Haiti is a shithole. That’s one of those weird ones where I really didn’t have a problem with Trump saying that. If he called Sweden a shithole and it deserved to be called a shithole, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I mean, presidents have said worse in private.

Insider: More of your tweets that have resurfaced recently are statements in support of 2017 Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and your questioning the accounts of multiple women who said that he molested them as teenagers. Do you still stand by Roy Moore?

Walsh: Let me be clear in everything I said about Roy Moore. It was up to the voters of Alabama, period. I never endorsed Roy Moore. I never supported him. (Walsh, in fact, called on his Twitter followers to vote for Moore in at least three tweets, here, here, and here).

But I was one of these people who said … that if the people of Alabama elect him, the people of Alabama elected him. It wasn’t my decision.

Joe Walsh announced his presidential campaign Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Screenshot via ABC

Insider: Some people are questioning your sincerity and arguing that you’re just doing this to boost your national profile. What do you say to those who doubt your motives in pursuing this presidential campaign?

Walsh: They don’t know me real well. If I wanted to boost my profile these past two years, the easiest thing for me to have done would have been to have been a big Trump supporter. Because that’s where the money is. That’s where the ratings are.

If you are a Sean Hannity and you think this president is the greatest, you’re going to do well right now. I say what I say what I believe. So everything I say about Trump, it’s what I believe.

Walsh argues that unlike Trump, he’s shown genuine remorse for ‘demonizing’ his political adversaries

Insider: There are people who are questioning your moral standing to challenge Trump given your own past invocation of the birther conspiracy about Barack Obama, your controversial statements about groups like Black Lives Matter, and tweeting in 2015 that you hoped terrorists would go after CNN and MSNBC reporters. What do you say to those who argue that you don’t have the moral standing to challenge Trump?

Walsh: I was never a birther. I’ve apologized for the fact that I called Obama a Muslim on more than one occasion and that was the wrong thing to do and I regret that. (In August of 2015, Walsh joked in a tweet, “Obama never let a voter touch his birth certificate” in response to a video of Trump letting a voter touch his hair.)

I’ve been tweeting for six years. There are probably 40,000 tweets out there. I bet you could find 200 that you and I would say, “Oh my God, Joe, what were you tweeting?” And I’ll own all my tweets. And for tweets that deserve an apology. I’ll apologize. Contrast that with this president who’s never apologized for a damn thing.

I’ve been very outspoken and over the years there have been times where I’ve gotten personal and ugly in this political warfare we’ve been engaged in. And I’ve tried to apologize for that. I’ve also said I feel responsible that Trump’s in the White House, because it was some of the personal demonizing of my opponents that I think helped lead to Trump. And that’s nothing that I’m proud of.

Read more: Trump’s new primary challenger Joe Walsh says he ‘regrets’ calling Obama a Muslim and promoting the racist ‘birther’ conspiracy theory

Insider: Does your own history give you the moral perspective to challenge Trump, knowing that you were part of the system that led to him in the first place?

Walsh: Well, yeah, if you believe in forgiveness. I’m genuine in that. I don’t regret being a Tea Party congressman. I don’t regret fighting for the issues, like balanced budgets, that I went to Washington to fight for. But I regret how I got personally ugly sometimes in my politics.

If Walsh loses his primary challenge, he won’t vote for a Democrat

Insider: What are the main areas where you disagree with Trump on policy? And are there any policies that you support and you would try to continue if you were president?

Walsh: If I just disagreed with Trump on a few issues, I wouldn’t be going to all this trouble. I mean, this is a pain in the butt. I’m getting beaten up now and it’s only day two. I do believe that almost every time he opens his mouth, he lies. I believe he’s a narcissist and I believe he’s betrayed this country.

Now, having said all of that, I disagree with him on his spending. He’s spending more than Obama did. He’s running up deficits higher than the Obama did. His tariffs are tax increases and they’re hurting this country. He hasn’t built one foot of new wall. The border right now is a bigger mess than it was when he got elected. There are some policy agreements that I’ve got with him, his judges have been good, he’s done some good things with deregulation, and I applaud moving our embassy to Jerusalem.

Read more: Experts say there is still a clear route for Trump to win reelection in 2020 even if a recession strikes

Walsh believes that President Donald Trump is “unfit” for office.
Associated Press

Insider: Even if you don’t win the primary, your primary challenge could still significantly weaken Trump going into the general. Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush all faced serious primary challenges, and while they still became the nominees, they all lost their reelection campaigns.

Is that an outcome that you considered when making the decision to run, and do you believe that a Democrat would be preferable to Trump?

Walsh: I didn’t think about that when I made this decision, I decided to primary him because I believe he’s unfit, and I don’t believe that our country can stand four more years of him. And I did it because I want to beat him. So if I lose the primary to him, I will not support him. I will never vote for Donald Trump again.

Will I support a Democrat? No, because I think their ideas are wrong. If Elizabeth Warren is president, then I will fight every day against the kind of socialism that she wants to bring to America.

He believes he can save the Republican Party before Trump completely sinks it

Insider: A recent trend we’ve seen is suburban voters — and especially suburban women— fleeing the GOP and voting for Democrats. What are you going to do to try to bring those suburban and white, college-educated voters who feel betrayed by Trump back into the party?

Walsh: I’m going to try to beat Trump because Trump’s the problem. Because of Trump, Republicans are losing women. Because of Trump, Republicans are losing young people. Because of Trump, Republicans are losing the suburbs.

The Republican Party before Trump had a pretty bad brand, which is why a bad man like Trump could win. But right now the Republican Party is horrible. The Republican Party brand under Trump is mean, it’s bigoted, it’s cruel, and it acts like it’s above the law and it’s losing voters.

So Trump has to lose because as long as Trump is that the head of the party, this party is always going to have a problem with women and young people.

Read more: Here’s why the once solidly Republican state of Texas could become a ticking time bomb for Trump’s GOP

Insider: What is your strategy going forward for the next couple of months? It’ll be pretty hard to overcome Trump’s approval rating within the Republican Party and, of course, his lock on the Republican National Committee.

Walsh: Well, first on the RNC, we’re going to try to unlock that lock because you’re right, Donald Trump is working with the party to try to shut off any primary challenge and we’re gonna make the case that that’s wrong and un-American.

Our campaign slogan is “be brave.” I picked “be brave” because I really do believe that privately, the vast majority of Republicans are sick and tired of Trump. They don’t like him. They’re tired of his lies. They’re tired of his insults. They’re tired of all of it. They just don’t say that publicly. So what my campaign is gonna try to do is get them to come out publicly.

So we’re going to be very aggressive, very active. We’re going to be on TV all the time and we’re going to campaign real hard to try to get people to be brave.

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