In the 2020 primaries, Republicans will be able to vote for a presidential candidate who has questioned Barack Obama’s birthplace, stoked hostility toward Muslims and mocked the sacrifices of war heroes.
Or they can vote to renominate President Donald Trump.
That first candidate may sound like Trump, but it’s former GOP Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, who on Sunday announced his bid to unseat the Republican who now occupies the White House. As a radio talk show host, Walsh gained notoriety for nasty and bigoted comments, and even got suspended for using the N-word.
Now, however, Walsh admits he “demonized” politic opponents and says he is “ashamed” of his role in getting Trump elected.
Walsh is certainly on firm ground in faulting the president for his reckless, bullying political style and policy mistakes, including his trade wars. Whether there is a constituency among the party’s rank and file for ousting an incumbent running for reelection, though, seems doubtful at this point. In the latest Gallup Poll, 88% of Republicans said they approve of Trump’s performance.
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Our general view is that primary competition is healthy. There’s nothing wrong with giving Republicans another option. Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a Republican who in 2016 ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket, had already entered the GOP race, charging that Trump “doesn’t believe in all the things that the real Republican Party used to stand for.”
We’d certainly rather hear Walsh holding forth on Trump’s many serious faults than mimicking him. The former congressman’s willingness to confess to serious errors is refreshing. Walsh’s tea party credentials may give conservatives a reason to hear him out, and he deserves credit for braving the abuse he will get from die-hard supporters of Trump — and possibly Trump himself.
But it’s also reasonable to witness this surprising turnabout and wonder if Walsh may have been faking his old hard-right persona or may be faking his new disgust with Trumpism. Maybe his is a genuine case of self-examination leading to reform. Or maybe it’s a marketing ploy by someone seeking attention, including regular time on cable news programs.
We hope Walsh’s change of heart is sincere. And even if Republicans are not willing to vote for him, we hope they will seriously consider his valid criticisms of Trump.