The New York Times reported Wednesday evening that former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) is considering a primary challenge to President Donald Trump, and that he is being supported by “Never Trump” stalwart Bill Kristol.
The Times, realistic about Walsh’s dim chances but enthusiastic about the prospect of a primary challenge, recounted Walsh’s conversion from a brash Tea Party conservative to an acerbic critic of the president:
In 2016, Mr. Walsh wrote on Twitter that he was voting for Trump, adding: “On November 9th, if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket. You in?” Now, Mr. Walsh is calling the president a “racial arsonist” and hoping to turn his fighter personality around on Mr. Trump to help defeat him.
Before his likely announcement, according to two people who have spoken with him, Mr. Walsh has hired a senior political adviser, organized meetings with high-profile Trump antagonists in New York City, and published an Op-Ed in The New York Times with the goal of previewing his campaign message.
Mr. Walsh is being encouraged by William Kristol, the conservative writer and former editor of the now defunct magazine The Weekly Standard. Mr. Kristol has been a “Never Trump” Republican since Mr. Trump was elected in 2016 and has been working hard over the past year to recruit someone to run against him.
Mr. Kristol said Mr. Walsh’s comfort with the in-your-face format of conservative talk radio makes him a potentially more effective combatant against Mr. Trump than someone like William Weld, the genteel former governor of Massachusetts, whose own primary challenge to the president has gained little traction.
Walsh is something of a political chameleon. He ran for Congress in 1996 as a moderate, pro-choice Republican, challenging long-time Democrat incumbent Rep. Sidney Yates in the 9th district of Illinois. He lost; this author likewise challenged a Democrat incumbent in 2010 and lost, though that effort helped Walsh win in the nearby 8th district, where he unseated Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL) by a handful of votes and survived a long recount battle.
Rep. Walsh was a frequent presence on Fox News, offering a Tea Party perspective on the new Republican majority. But he had a habit of making controversial remarks, and seemed to melt down in a confrontation with constituents.
After Illinois Democrats redrew the state’s congressional districts to make it impossible for the Tea Party class of 2010 to win again — except Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who survived a race against a fellow Republican — Walsh found a new home in talk radio, where he continued to talk his way into trouble on occasion, such as this 2014 tweet:
Found out if I said Redskins or Cracker or Redneck Bible Thumper, I could stay on. But if I said Nigger or Spick, they cut me off.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 20, 2014
Walsh would seem to be an odd pairing for Kristol — and a somewhat unconvincing alternative to Trump, at least in terms of rhetoric. In a recent Times op-ed, Walsh admitted some of his own past excesses: “To be sure, I’ve had my share of controversy. On more than one occasion, I questioned Mr. Obama’s truthfulness about his religion. At times, I expressed hate for my political opponents. We now see where this can lead.”
Yet to Kristol, and the Times, who have struggled to understand the conservative movement and Trump’s political base, he seems good enough.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.