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Joe Walsh Is Here to Reveal What Republicans Really Think About Trump

September 4, 2019
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1. Joe Walsh

There are two ways of looking at politics: By thinking about what should happen and analyzing what will happen.

On the should side of the Joe Walsh campaign, some of my friends are saying that Walsh 2020 is a bad idea for conservatives.

Maybe it is!

But it will be deeply clarifying exercise for Trump-supporters.

From the dawn of Trump, most Republicans and conservatives have insisted that:

  • Border security is the single most important issue; everything else is a side-show. And so Trump had to be supported because he was the only candidate who would build the wall.
  • Trump’s character was a liability, yes. And his deportment and norm-breaking could be overlooked because . . .
  • Elections are binary choices. And so anyone who didn’t look past Trump’s character to the raw ideological difference between him and his opponents was a cuck or a lib or a RINO or whatever.

So for most (though surely not all) Trump supporting conservatives/Republicans, those are the rules of the road.

First: Where is the wall? It does not exist. As president, Donald Trump has replaced a couple hundred miles of existing fencing. That’s it. Not one single mile of new wall has been built.

What’s worse, he explicitly rejected Paul Ryan’s plan to get the wall funded and built right out of the gate.

Make no mistake: Trump had a chance to build the wall and he chose to pass his massive corporate tax cut instead. Maybe you think that was the right call. But you can’t believe that Walsh is any less serious about protecting the border than Trump has been.

Second: Is Walsh more of a norm-breaker than Trump? He may have trafficked in unsavory stuff in the past, but it’s small beer compared with “send her back” and “grab ’em by the pussy” and cracking a joke when one of his supporters suggested shooting immigrants.

Third: If the Republican primary contest in, say, New Hampshire, really is a binary choice between Walsh and Trump, then there is no ideological reason for Republicans who say they care about immigration and conservative policies and the Supreme Court above all not to vote for Walsh over Trump.

If Republicans choose Trump over Walsh, the only rational explanation is that they’re voting for Trump’s character. The bug that they tried desperately to bury three years ago has become the defining feature of the product.

In other words: You don’t choose Trump over Walsh in spite of “send her back” and all the rest. You choose Trump over Walsh because of it.

And if that’s what Republican voters do, it will be clarifying. Is it helpful? Perhaps not, in terms of the long-run future of the Republican party or the conservative movement.

But in the long run, we’re all dead. I would argue that it’s probably good to know—for sure—why the Republican party and the conservative movement gave themselves over to Trumpism.

Joe Walsh will provide the answer to that question.

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2. New Hampshire

In the meantime, there’s a lot of noise from Trump supporters about how terrible Walsh is because he once tweeted this or said that. And fair enough. He did say and tweet lots of bad stuff.

But if you’re the type of Trump-loving Republican who finds that sort of thing disqualifying, then you should be voting for Bill Weld.

Anyway, let’s get away from the shoulds and focus on what will happen.

I feel pretty confident in saying that Donald Trump is an overwhelming favorite to win the Republican nomination. For him to not be the nominee, he would probably have to drop out of the race of his own accord, a la Lyndon Johnson.

But that doesn’t mean that Walsh’s candidacy is meaningless.

On Tuesday Noah Rothman underscored a point I’ve been making for months now: Trump has absolutely invited a primary opponent.

  • Trump has actively antagonized certain bands of Republican voters (namely suburban, college-educated whites) and their elected representatives.
  • He has actively betrayed long-standing conservative orthodoxies on fiscal responsibility and free-trade.
  • He has been deeply, historically, unpopular.

At this point, 14 months from Election Day, Trump trails all of his potential Democratic rivals. He trails his most-likely opponent by double-digits.

This is happening not in the middle of a recession, but with the second-lowest unemployment rate in half a century.

If Trump isn’t the weakest incumbent president since Johnson, then he’s second on the list behind Jimmy Carter.

Always remember: Weakness is a provocation.

So Trump was basically destined to get a primary challenger. Now he has two of them. And he might get a third.

Are these three going to win enough delegates to capture the nomination?

I would not bet the milk money on that.

But could they poll well enough to frighten any political professional with an interest in Donald Trump’s future?

You betcha.

It is not crazy—not crazy at all—to think that some combination of Walsh, Weld, and Candidate X could combine to get something like 38 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.

Because “success” in a primary challenge isn’t about winning the nomination. It’s about sending a message that sets a course for the future.

Sometimes that course is about ideology, as it was with  Ronald Reagan and his 1976 challenge to President Ford.

Sometimes it’s about trying to unwind the party’s relationship with an unpopular politician, which is what Ted Kennedy did in 1980 to President Carter.

Sometimes it’s both, as with Pat Buchanan’s 1992 challenge to President Bush.

But whether or not Walsh 2020 is a good thing, it’s a thing that is happening.

And it might turn out to matter.