Who Is Joe Walsh, Potentially a Republican Challenger to President Trump?

Joe Walsh, former U.S. Representative from Illinois, is apparently mulling over a potential presidential run in 2020 as a Republican—one of only two against Trump.

House GOP
(Image credit: Tom Williams)

Joe Walsh, former U.S. Representative from Illinois, is apparently mulling over a potential presidential run in 2020 as a Republican—one of only two candidates who would be running against incumbent President Donald Trump. His candidacy would be a long shot, but his aim is to pull support from the president, of whom he's a very vocal critic. So who is Walsh, and what will he support if he runs?

He's from Illinois.

Walsh has been married twice, most recently to Illinois state representative (2018-9) Helene Walsh; He has three kids and two step-kids. His first campaign was in 1996 in a race against incumbent Sidney Yates—it would be the first of four campaigns. He's become more conservative as these campaigns have gone on.

He's a radio host.

Walsh is the nationally syndicated radio host of “The Joe Walsh Show“ on 560 AM in several cities including New York—and formerly on WNYM in Chicago, but he was dropped from the platform. He also cohosts a weekly podcast "Uncomfortable Conversations" with Maze Jackson. He's charismatic and vocal without being too different from other far-right Republicans, and his proponents are hoping that'll help if he declares a candidacy.

He's formerly a U.S. Representative.

Walsh served a single term, representing Illinois' 8th district. Of his run (and a potential run against the president), he's said, "I know a thing or two about insurgencies. I entered Congress in 2011 as an insurgent Tea Party Republican. My goals were conservative and clear: restrain executive power and reduce the debt." He was a strong critic of President Obama, and advocated for more security on the border (which he still advocates for).

Walsh's district was redrawn in 2012 and he ran against, and was defeated by, Democrat Tammy Duckworth.

He used to be a Trump fan.

Walsh is a Tea Party Republican. In 2016, Walsh supported Trump and even tweeted, "On November 9th, if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket. You in?" (He maintains otherwise, but some interpreted that as a call to violence.) But he went from supporter to critic over the course of Trump's presidency, saying Trump's actions towards Putin tipped him over the edge. “He lost me for good in Helsinki, when he stood in front of the world and said, ‘I believe Putin and I don’t believe my fellow Americans,’” he said in the New York Times in a recent op-ed, adding that he and others needed “to stick our necks out because when people see that, more and more people will.”

He has also been attacking Trump's actions. “The fact is, Mr. Trump is a racial arsonist who encourages bigotry and xenophobia to rouse his base and advance his electoral prospects. In this, he inspires imitators,” Walsh wrote. “Republicans should view Mr. Trump as the liability that he is.”

He's mulling over a 2020 run.

Historically, a Republican challenger often has little to no chance of success against an incumbent, considering their fundraising and institutional power. Despite that, a challenger could potentially weaken the incumbent's position (as was the case with George Bush), which then has an impact in the subsequent election. William Weld is the only current challenger to Trump, but Weld hasn't gotten much traction.

It's worth it to note that Walsh is being encouraged to take a stand by anti-Trump writer William Kristol. According to the New York Times, "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."

He's said incendiary things in the past.

In addition to the "musket" comment, Walsh was actually suspended on Twitter when he tweeted, "This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out Black Lives Matter punks. Real America is coming after you." As with his other tweet, this was interpreted by some as a rallying cry for violence—and he was briefly suspended from Twitter. He was allowed to keep his account on the condition that he delete the tweet.

Walsh has now apologized for his actions (and for helping to get Trump elected), saying in the NYT op-ed:

"In Mr. Trump, I see the worst and ugliest iteration of views I expressed for the better part of a decade. 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. There’s no place in our politics for personal attacks like that, and I regret making them."

He still takes a pretty firm immigration stance, despite this comment, but it's not as wholesale:

We'll update when we know more—and if Walsh officially decides to run.

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Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.