Why is Joe Walsh threatening to run against Trump in 2020?

  • Former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh in 2011 in Washington D.C.

      Former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh in 2011 in Washington D.C. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/22/2019 6:29 PM

Is it a publicity stunt?

Is it a cash grab?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Does he really think he has a shot?

These questions -- and several more -- were top of mind after former one-term Illinois Republican congressman and Tea Party darling Joe Walsh said he is contemplating a run for the GOP presidential nomination to unseat Donald Trump.

Walsh, who once threatened on Twitter to take up arms if Trump wasn't elected president, has been a vocal critic of the president in recent years, using his afternoon drive-time show on WIND 560-AM as a bully pulpit to rail against Trump and fellow Republicans who support the president.

Walsh did not return calls or emails seeking comment about his candidacy plans. However, Walsh appeared on CNN Thursday to say he is "strongly considering" a run because Republicans are "running out of time. But more importantly, these are not conventional times. Look at the guy in the White House. These are urgent times."

Walsh came to prominence in 2010 campaigning against three-term Democratic congresswoman Melissa Bean, whom he ultimately defeated in a narrow decision.

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While he was in office his district was redrawn. He initially threatened to oppose then-Rep. Randy Hultgren, a fellow Republican, but instead ran against Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates. Duckworth won by 10 points and is now a U.S. senator.

After that defeat, Walsh took a job on the radio.

Radio insiders said Walsh's contract with Salem Media, the owners of his station, runs through 2020. Salem does not subscribe to Nielsen Audio ratings, but the last time they did in 2016 Walsh's show was tied for 25th place in the afternoon ratings, with a cumulative weekly audience of about 170,000 listeners.

His stint on the airwaves has seen its share of controversies. He was kicked off the air in the middle of a show for saying racial slurs while discussing the name of the Washington, D.C., football team. He threatened to "grab my musket" if Trump lost the 2016 election.

He would have to give up the radio show if he runs for office. Walsh has a long way to go in financing a possible run. His campaign fund, untouched since 2012, stands at roughly $24,000 with debts of $28,000, according to the Federal Election Commission's website.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Big Republican donors who have issues with Trump are looking to 2024 and are unlikely to put money into opposing him in 2020, one high-level Illinois Republican said.

Still, Walsh told Politico Thursday that he could "abso-freaking-lutely" drum up enough financial resources to mount a successful run against Trump. And even if he's unsuccessful, the money he generates could be used for a future run, political insiders said.

Some Illinois Republican leaders seem nonplused by Walsh's statements.

"Former congressman Walsh will be facing enormous hurdles in a Republican primary against the president since well over 80% to 85% of Republicans have indicated in polls that they support Mr. Trump," said former state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, who ran statewide for governor in the GOP primary in 2010 and 2014.

Others were more blunt about Walsh's possible candidacy.

"Hilarious," said former state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, who is running for the 6th Congressional District in the GOP primary.

"I don't think that his strengths lay in running a system as complicated as the USA," said Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, a longtime Walsh ally.

While the GOP leaders doubted Walsh has a shot at unseating Trump, they acknowledge the controversial politician's charisma.

"Obviously -- and he acknowledges it -- he's a long shot," former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said. "The thing that's interesting to me as an observer ... if the two get into a debate, Joe Walsh can hold his own."

This is not Walsh's first time contemplating running for office. He suggested plans to run for governor, but never did so. He threatened a primary run against former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, but opted against it.

"I'm excited to see what he puts together," said Palatine Township Republican Committeeman Aaron Del Mar, former Cook County GOP chairman. "I'm also cautious to make sure it's an actual run and not a publicity stunt."

Only former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld has announced plans to run against Trump for the GOP nomination, though there's some speculation that a bounty of other moderate conservatives are also waiting in the wings and testing the waters in early primary and caucus states like New Hampshire and Iowa.

If that is Walsh's strategy, "all he has to do is win the expectations game to win the next news cycle," one high-level Illinois Republican said. Slightly exceeding an anticipated low vote total would give Walsh headlines.

Perhaps Walsh's plan is to raise his profile for a run in 2024, the source said. But it also could just be that Walsh is bored. "He's a contrarian by nature. It could be that Joe is just so contrarian that it's like catnip and he can't stay away from it."

So far, the president hasn't acknowledged Walsh's statements publicly.

"We'll know it's a real race if Donald Trump gives him a nickname," Del Mar said.

• Daily Herald columnist Robert Feder contributed.

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