LIVE

The former Illinois lawmaker is an outspoken Trump critic with a history of racist comments for which he's since apologized

By Rachel DeSantis
August 26, 2019 06:24 PM
Advertisement

The Democratic field of presidential hopefuls looking to send Donald Trump home from the White House remains crowded, though the same can’t be said for Republicans.

Former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, is looking to change that, however, announcing Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that he is running against Trump, 73, in the 2020 Republican primary. It’s a long-shot bid that Walsh, who has a history of his own inflammatory statements, said he felt compelled to undertake given Trump’s behavior in the Oval Office.

“We can’t take four more years of Donald Trump,” Walsh, a 57-year-old conservative radio host, wrote on Twitter. “And that’s why I’m running for President.”

An erstwhile Trump supporter who has since changed his tune, Walsh’s announcement drew praise, including former Trump White House official Anthony Scaramucci, but also criticism — including from those who were quick to point back at his Trump-like rhetoric against minorities, liberals and other groups.

Here’s what to know about Walsh.

His Political Career Was Surprising and Brief

Walsh’s political career has more in common with Trump than he might like to acknowledge: Like Trump, Walsh eked out a surprise victory in his one and only successful race for office, beating incumbent Melissa Bean in 2010 by a few hundred votes.

Though he quickly made himself one of the faces of the tea party opposing Obama, Walsh had a history of changing views, telling the Chicago Tribune during an unsuccessful run for Congress in the ’90s: “I think I’m the kind of Republican who can win because I’m open and tolerant. I’m not some right-wing conservative.” In addition to politics, Walsh, an Illinois native, previously worked as a community college teacher, in finance, as a fundraiser and a researcher, according to the Tribune.

Walsh’s district was re-drawn after the 2010 census and he was soundly defeated in his re-election bid, after which he reportedly became a radio host.

He Had a Trump Change Of Heart

A noted critic of onetime Trump rival Hillary Clinton, Walsh, who served a term in Congress before he was defeated in 2012, was all-in on Trump ahead of the 2016 election, even tweeting: “If Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket. You in?” (Walsh later tried to clarify that he was referring to “civil disobedience” and not revolution.)

But since Trump took office, Walsh has soured on the president, frequently using his Twitter account to call him out for his lies.

“We’ve got a guy in the White House who’s unfit, completely unfit, to be president, and it stuns me that nobody stepped up, nobody in the Republican party,” Walsh said on This Week. “The country is sick of this guy’s tantrum. He’s a child.”

Despite trying to draw a line between himself and Trump, Walsh admitted to Stephanopoulos joining in on the divisive rhetoric that has become a signature Trump strategy. Like Trump, Walsh made racist comments about then-President Barack Obama, questioning his birthplace.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump

“I helped create Trump. And George, that’s not an easy thing to say. Look, we were divided before Trump,” Walsh said. “There were plenty of times where I went beyond the policy and the idea differences, and I got personal and I got hateful. I said some ugly things about President Obama that I regret. And it’s difficult, but I think — I think that helped create Trump. And I feel responsible for that.”

Walsh wrote on Twitter that he tried to give Trump a fair shot in the beginning of his presidency, but that the Republican turned him off for good after he sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence during a 2018 summit meeting in Helsinki.

“I never liked him. He wasn’t Hillary,” Walsh wrote on Twitter. “Initially, I tried the whole ‘good Trump/bad Trump’ thing, but it quickly became clear to me that he lied every time he opened his mouth. I can’t condone that. He lost me for good at Helsinki.”

Walsh Has Railed Against Obama for His Race

Walsh has never shied away from making controversial statements on Twitter and Obama has been one of his favorite targets — with Walsh repeatedly claiming that Obama was only elected because he was black.

Walsh tweeted some version of the sentiment more than a dozen times between 2014 and 2018, accusing Obama of having “no experience” and claiming he was held to a “lower standard” as president because of his skin color.

“The single greatest act of racism in American history was the election of Barack Obama,” Walsh tweeted in June 2016. “People voted for him simply because he was black.”

Before that, in June 2015, Walsh had written: “America finally tipped when we elected an Obama only cuz he was black & we obsessed over some Bruce who turned himself into a Caitlyn. [Shaking my head].”

Walsh also repeatedly claimed Obama was Muslim and, just as Trump did, spread the baseless conspiracy that Obama was not born in the United States, writing in August 2015, “Obama never let a voter feel his birth certificate” alongside a photo of Trump letting a voter feel his hair.

“For better or worse, I’m not afraid to say it publicly,” Walsh wrote in December 2016. “I think Obama is Muslim. I think in his head and in his heart he has always been.”

Two years later, Walsh doubled down, writing, “I have a right to pray to whatever God I want to pray to. I have a right to call Obama a Muslim and call Trump a thin-skinned ego maniac. I have a right to use an AR-15 to defend my family and my home. That’s America. Get off my lawn.”

Walsh also accused Obama of being a traitor multiple times.

“Obama encourages illegals to vote … Traitor. Don’t know what else to call him,” he wrote in November 2016.

Since announcing his bid for the presidency, Walsh has apologized for the many racist comments he made toward Obama, telling Stephanopoulos he considered it a “weakness” not to.

“I had strong policy disagreements with Barack Obama and too often I let those policy disagreements get personal,” he said. “God, no [I didn’t really think he was Muslim], and I have apologized for that. And that’s not an easy thing to do, not at all. But think about the contrast, George. Again, I’m bearing my soul with you right now on national TV. We have a guy in the White House who’s never apologized for anything he’s done or said. I think it’s a weakness not to apologize. I helped create Trump. There’s no doubt about that — the personal, ugly politics. I regret that, and I’m sorry for that, and now we have got a guy in the White House, George, that’s all he does.”

Barack Obama and Joe Walsh
Barack Obama (left) and Joe Walsh
| Credit: Mark Makela/Getty; AP Photo/Daily Herald, Gilbert R. Boucher II

He also responded to Twitter users calling out his past comments.

“If I called Barack Obama a traitor, yes I apologize. Obama and I have very different beliefs, but he’s not a traitor. No way,” he wrote.

A spokesperson for Walsh did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

He Said He Was Once Removed from the Air for Using Racial Slurs

Walsh started hosting The Joe Walsh Show on a conservative Chicago radio station in 2013. But, according to his own account of the incident on Twitter, he was taken off the air during a broadcast in 2014 for using racial slurs while discussing the Washington Redskins, an NFL team whose name has come under fire for being offensive to Native Americans.

He chronicled his removal in a lengthy Twitter thread.

“I’m trying to have an honest, adult conversations about words without resorting to alphabet soup phrases(C-word, N-word, etc),” he wrote. “If Redskins is just like the ‘n-word’ why can I say Redskins on-air without being dumped out into a commercial?”

“Just got kicked off the air until further notice,” he tweeted. “Tried to have honest discussion about racist terms and management censored my language.”

He later wrote, “Found out if I said Redskins or Cracker or Redneck Bible Thumper, I could stay on. But if I said N—– or S—-, they cut me off. I won’t bow to political correctness or groveling nonsense. Never have. Never will.”

He’s Also Made Homophobic Comments and Lashed Out at Sandy Hook Families

After Andrew Shaw of the Chicago Blackhawks was suspended by the National Hockey League for hurling homophobic slurs at an official, Walsh hopped on Twitter to defend him, calling his suspension the “pussification of America.”

“I’m still blown away that a pro hockey player was suspended this week for saying the word ‘f-‘ during a game,” he later wrote. “A country of so many babies.”

Joe Walsh
Joe Walsh
| Credit: AP Photo/Daily Herald/Mark Black

Walsh also once criticized the families of victims from the Sandy Hook massacre, telling them their “15 minutes [of fame] is up” after they filed suit against gun manufacturer Remington.

Walsh recently apologized for his Sandy Hook comments, writing on Twitter, “I stand by my belief that gun manufacturers shouldn’t be sued when bad guys use their legal products, but that ’15 of fame’ was an uncalled for cheap shot.”

He also issued a statement on Twitter regarding his tweets in general, explaining that he never deletes tweets — but can acknowledge when he believes he’s stepped out of line.

“I don’t delete tweets. If I tweet something, it’s mine. I’ve probably got 50,000 ? tweets out there. There are easily a few hundred where I went over the line, got ugly, or tweeted something demanding an apology. I’ve done my best to own them & apologize where necessary,” he wrote.