Debt

Joe Walsh Isn't Running on the Issues

The conservative radio host says he is running for president because Trump is “erratic" and "cruel." But Walsh has his own history to live down.

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Joe Walsh, the former one-term congressman from Illinois and current conservative talk radio host, announced on Sunday that he will challenge President Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020.

"I'm running because he's unfit; somebody needs to step up and there needs to be an alternative. The country is sick of this guy's tantrum—he's a child," Walsh said on ABC's This Week. 

"What are we really getting done?" he asked host George Stephanopoulos. "We haven't built one foot of a wall. This president, who said 'I'm gonna eliminate the debt in eight years,' has increased the debt at a faster clip than Obama."

Walsh has been particularly vocal about the latter point. Writing in The New York Times, he said that the only time the bulk of his conservative audience parted with Trump was when the president "ballooned the deficit" after signing the omnibus spending bill in 2017. "Fiscal responsibility is an issue the American electorate cares about, but that our elected officials disregard from the top down — including the Tea Party in the Trump era."

Trump did indeed campaign on reducing the national debt within eight years, which is why Republicans like Walsh—who says he voted for Trump—have become increasingly jaded as they've watched the debt and the deficit expand at a rapid pace. In 2018, a bipartisan budget deal approved $1.3 trillion in spending, sending the national debt past $22 trillion. Just last month, Trump heralded another bipartisan spending deal⁠—one that suspends debt ceilings until 2021 and is set to add $1.7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

Walsh seems serious about reining in excessive spending, but he hasn't announced a plan for doing so. He told Stephanopoulos that Trump's rhetoric is more pressing than the issues.

"This is not about issues," he said. "I would not be thinking about primarying this president if I was upset with his position on the debt and the deficit."

For Walsh, that might be a tough sell, as the conservative radio firebrand has his own history of incendiary remarks and politically charged insults. Not unlike Trump, he promoted the "birther" theory that alleged former President Obama was born abroad, and he was temporarily removed from the radio in 2014 after using a series of racial slurs.

He also propagated the false claim that Obama is Muslim, tweeted that the former president was elected "because he's black," and echoed Trump's sentiment that Haiti is a "shithole country."

Walsh apologized on This Week. "I helped create Trump, and George, that's not an easy thing to say," he said. "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."