In the days since Joe Walsh announced his challenge to President Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, the former congressman and radio host has been on an apology tour for his own past controversial comments.
“If you go thru my 40,000 tweets, I did a pretty bad or horrible job of offending a lot of people,” Walsh told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff. “I felt a big part of my job [as a radio host] was to provoke and get people thinking about a number of issues. Oftentimes, I went over the line.”
Walsh, an Illinois Republican who was elected to Congress in the Tea Party wave of 2010, has previously fanned the false conspiracy that then-President Obama was a Muslim. He once defended his right to say “blacks are lazy.” Pressed for his views today, Walsh backed away from both comments but advocated for his right to free speech.
“Those aren’t my views. That’s just the way I unfortunately pushed the envelope too often,” Walsh said.
The one-term representative voted for Trump in 2016 and tweeted in the leadup to Election Day that he would grab his musket if Trump lost. He says now that vote was primarily a vote against Hillary Clinton.
“I didn’t love him. I didn’t like him,” Walsh said of Trump. “I thought he was sort of a goof.”
Walsh said his anti-Trump views really solidified “a year or so” later, and he now believes Trump is “unfit” to be president and “lies virtually every time he opens his mouth.”
Other highlights from the interview:
Wash faces an uphill battle to win the GOP nomination. Nine out of 10 Republicans approve of Trump’s performance as president, according to a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. Walsh nonetheless tried to differentiate himself from Trump on a number of issues central to the 2020 campaign.
- On immigration: “The situation at our border now is a bigger mess than when [Trump] got elected,” Walsh said, adding he would end the Trump administration policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border. While Walsh said he would be “tougher” on people that try to enter the United States illegally, he would also devote more resources to adjudicate asylum cases because those are legal border crossings. “It’s our responsibility to hear those claims,” he said.
- On climate change: President Trump skipped a meeting at this week’s G7 meeting in France where other world leaders discussed climate change solutions, while Walsh says he recognizes climate change is impacted by human activities. “The Republican Party has to acknowledge it’s a problem. This president won’t,” Walsh said.
- On LGBT rights: The Trump administration has rolled back protections for LGBT Americans, including imposing a ban on transgendger troops serving in the military. Walsh would reverse that ban. “Anybody who can qualify to serve in the military — gay, straight or transgender — should be able to serve,” Walsh said.