Former tea party activist and Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh announced Friday he was ending his long-shot primary challenge to President Donald Trump.
Declaring Trump unbeatable in a Republican Party that has become a “cult,” Walsh says he will now be doing everything he can to help a Democrat – any Democrat – defeat Trump in November.
Below, a Q&A with Walsh.
You’ve said any Democrat would be better than Trump in the White House – even a socialist. How did you come to this point?
Well look, when I got into it six months ago I got into because I think and I believe – and I still believe – that Donald Trump is unfit, period, to be president. I believe he is the single greatest threat our country has right now. I think he is everything our Founding Fathers feared. So I haven’t changed on that. When people asked me when I first got in that if I can’t win the nomination will I support a Democrat? And my answer early was always, “Well I’ll never vote for Donald Trump but I don’t know about a Democrat.” Over the course of the last four to five months it became clear to me that Trump is such a unique threat and the Republican Party is now his party and it is like a cult and it’s really, really important – it’s vital that he loses. And the only way he’s going to lose is to put a Democrat in the White House, so yeah, I would support any Democrat over him.
How would you analyze the rise of Trump? What made his presidency possible?
That’s pretty easy because the same people who voted for him voted for me. The same people that voted for him have listened to me on the radio over the last six years. Donald Trump is payback, period, from a lot of good people out there who have felt like and believe the political system – neither political party – was listening to them or cared about them. And along came a demagogue like Donald Trump who said, “I’m going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it.” These people thought that they finally had someone who cared about them. And that’s why they’ve clung to him so tightly. He doesn’t believe a word he says, he’s just a demagogue, but they believe he’s the first one who’s really listened to them or cared about them.
Why do you think so many people are willing to believe what he says even though much of what he says is contradicted and fact-checked by the media every day and proven to be false?
I think two reasons, and man I ran head first into this. They don’t care that he lies every day. They don’t care that he cheats. They don’t care that he’s corrupt. They don’t care that he abuses the office. They don’t care that he solicits foreign interference in our elections. They don’t care about anything that he does because, again, two reasons: He’s punching what they believe are the bad guys. He’s punching CNN, he’s punching the Democrats and they have so much invested in him … Look, I love a lot of these people because they have been my audience for the last six years, but it really is like a cult and they see nothing wrong in their leader. He can do no wrong for them and to them.
Has Trump forever changed the Republican Party? Do you think the party will ever return to what it once was?
No I don’t. I think the Republican Party is breaking up. Look at this. So here’s Joe Walsh, tea party conservative who will do whatever he can do this year to help elect a Democrat president. You talk about an upside-down world. I think the Republican Party is breaking up. It’s Trump’s party. I’m a conservative, I have no hope in this party. I don’t belong in this party and I really do believe the split is permanent. I believe what the Senate Republicans did a week or two ago when they put Trump before country, I think you can’t walk that back. And here’s the other thing: Trump’s not going anywhere. Let’s hope he loses in November. I think he will lose in November. But he’s not going to go anywhere unless he’s in jail. He’s going to grab Sean Hannity. He’ll probably start his own TV network. He’ll have his followers. He’ll continue to try and make life hell for the Republican Party for a long, long time.
Was it a mistake for Democrats to impeach Trump even though they never were likely to secure the votes to remove him from office?
My answer is simple: they had no f***ing choice. They had no choice. The president of the United States forced a foreign government to help him cheat in the 2020 election. If you don’t impeach a president over that, then there’s nothing to impeach a president over, period.
You say you think the Republican Party has succumbed to what you have characterized as the cult of Trump. But in terms of Sen. Lindsey Graham, what do you think is going on there? We often hear that many Republicans are willing to criticize Trump behind the scenes but they just won’t do it publicly. Why do you think someone like Graham is willing to go back on many things he apparently believed in the past to support Trump?
Remember one thing on the cult, it’s not just the Republican voters. The cult extends to conservative media. Fox News and the conservative media world would never have me on the last six months. Why? Because they wanted to protect their leader. Republican Party bosses in 10 states cancelled primaries and caucuses. Why? To protect their leader. So the cult extends way beyond the voters. Now, to my former colleagues in the House and the Senate, it really comes down to two different kinds of people and I have spoken to a lot of them privately and I can tell you that most Republicans in Congress privately agree with most of what I say about Trump publicly. They are afraid to say it publicly because they don’t want to lose his voters. They’re not afraid of Trump, they are afraid of losing Trump’s voters. So they are just going to keep their mouths shut until November and after November and many of them hope Trump will lose. Some of my former colleagues have told me: “Joe, I know Trump’s a bad guy but he’s my coach and we have to beat the other team – the Democrats – because they are the enemy.” But then you get people like Lindsey Graham and other Republicans who have literally just sold their souls, period. Lindsey Graham has just sold his soul to Donald Trump for whatever reason.
How would you assess the field of Democratic presidential candidates? Who do you think has the best shot against Trump?
I generally believe that any of them could beat Trump because the resistance to Trump is strong. But I will tell you this, I heard from hundreds and hundreds of Republicans when I was in Iowa the last month who all told me: “Joe, I love you, I love what you are doing but I’m going to caucus with the Democrats because I want to impact who the Democrats pick.” And they caucused for … they mentioned Klobuchar and Biden. I heard that overwhelmingly. I think Amy Klobuchar would kick Trump’s ass. I think if Amy Klobuchar or Joe Biden were the nominee, a lot of Republicans would vote for them. That’s one way to beat Trump. The other way to beat Trump is to pick a Bernie or an Elizabeth Warren – it’s less certain – but pick a Bernie, and you would have to really energize a lot of constituencies on the left who typically don’t vote. So I think any of them could beat him but I know that somebody like Klobuchar would absolutely kick Trump’s a**.
Why are you so confident that Klobuchar would be so good in a matchup against Trump?
Because all of the independents and a hell of a lot of moderate Republicans would voter for her. The crossover would be incredible. She’s from the Midwest. She’s tough. But mainly, she would get everybody in the middle. She’d pick off tons of Republicans. I heard it from Republicans in New Hampshire who told me the same thing: “Joe, I would ordinarily vote for you but I want to impact the Democrat race so I’m going to vote for Klobuchar.” And we heard Biden too. So you would get a lot of that and I think that would guarantee them a win.
You lost your radio show after you announced you were running against Trump. Was that the reason? Were you ever explicitly told it was because you chose to run against Trump?
I was told that. But full disclosure, in all likelihood I was going to lose my radio show anyway. I was under enormous pressure to be on Team Trump. Ever since he got elected my syndicator, the company I worked for, they pressured all of us to say nothing but good things about Donald Trump. I couldn’t do it so they closer we were getting to the election there was no doubt that they were going to want somebody on the radio who was on Team Trump. So I was going to lose my show regardless.
Why did you decide to drop out of the race? What prompted you to decide enough is enough?
Two things. Look, I’m no dummy. I knew this was going to be a difficult road and early on I sensed that Trump had a hold over the party but you don’t really know it until you see it. And that final month I spent in Iowa when I had Republicans boo me and yell at me because I said we need a president who doesn’t lie all the time – that kind of thing went on over and over and I just realized that it’s impossible – and I mean impossible – for any Republican to beat him in a primary. I’m devoting my life to make sure that he doesn’t get reelected. I can’t do that in the primary so I’ve got to find a better way to do that.
Do you see the rise of Trump as an outgrowth of the anti-establishment tea party movement that energized many on the right who thought the establishment wasn’t working for them? Would Trump’s rise have been possible without the tea party or has he simply co-opted their anger?
He’s co-opted their anger but I believe there were two strands to the tea party movement 10 years ago. There was the anti-debt strand of which I was a part. And then there was the angry populist strand. Once we went to Washington and it became clear that the Republicans were not going to cut spending or do anything about the debt then a lot of tea party people got angry and frustrated. And Donald Trump came along and he seized upon their populist anger. Anger about a wall, anger about people coming in, anything. So he co-opted the movement and moved it away from a movement on debt.
The other two points I want to make – and I’ve been very public about this – I helped lead to Trump because oftentimes when I was fighting the last 10 years I engaged in ugly politics. Some of that ugly politics led to Trump. The other thing that led to Trump was a Republican Party establishment that was clueless and out of touch with how angry their voters were. Jeb Bush and all the rest of them, they had no idea. So along came Trump – and Trump he’s a demagogue and he sensed their anger and he gave them voice. The party establishment never saw how angry their voters were.
What’s next for you?
The immediate future is I’m going to devote the next six to nine months to trying to, as best as I can, to get conservatives, Republicans, moderates and independents to agree with me that Donald Trump is a unique threat and we have to vote for any Democrat. Trump didn’t win by a lot, so if I can go in to a number of states and convince enough Republicans that Trump’s a bigger threat than any Democrat that could help swing an election. And that’s most certainly what I’m going to try to do these next six to nine months.
I have to work around the conservative media world because they won’t touch me. So I will go directly to voters around the country. And the other thing we have is we have a huge list of hundreds of thousands of voters who are in the middle and/or Republicans and conservatives. So we can directly communicate with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of voters over the next six to nine months to make the case even Bernie Sanders would be better than four more years of Trump.”