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Fmr. Rep. Joe Walsh: 7 things you need to know about the Republican challenging President Donald Trump

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By Roey Hadar

Production Associate

Conservative radio host and former Illinois Representative Joe Walsh announced on August 25 that he would challenge President Donald Trump in the Republican primary.

The 57-year-old supported Trump in 2016 but now calls the president “unfit” and “a danger to this country.”

Walsh is the second candidate to announce a challenge to Trump from within the Republican Party, after former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld. He acknowledges that it will not be easy to challenge an incumbent president, but encourages Republicans to “be brave” and stand up to Trump.

  • He served two years in Congress after running with support from the Tea Party movement. Walsh, who grew up in the Chicago area and had worked as a venture capitalist, a social worker and an actor, narrowly upset Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean in a suburban Chicago district in 2010. While in Congress, he became known for his strong opposition to increasing government spending, including entitlement reform and deficit reduction.
  • He has taken socially conservative positions on issues like abortion and gun rights. Walsh considers himself an opponent of both abortion and the death penalty and said after August 2019 shootings in Texas and Ohio that an assault weapons ban would “do nothing to prevent mass shootings.” Earlier in life, Walsh took more moderate stances. In two unsuccessful congressional runs in the 1990s, he favored expanding abortion rights and gun control.
  • After previously supporting Trump, Walsh says Trump is unfit for office. In an August 2019 New York Times op-ed, Walsh said he voted for Trump as a vote against Hillary Clinton but said he decided he couldn’t support the president and that someone needed to challenge him in the Republican primary. Walsh said Trump “isn’t a conservative” and that he is too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and is engaged in a “narcissistic trade war.” He also called Trump a “racial arsonist who encourages bigotry and xenophobia.”
  • Walsh has apologized for controversial comments that he has since said were hateful. Walsh promoted “birther” conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama, called him a “Muslim” and a “traitor” and said Obama was elected because of his race. In his prior support of Trump, Walsh insinuated that Trump supporters should resort to violence if Trump were to lose the 2016 election. Walsh has since apologized for his statements about Islam and Obama and says his inflammatory rhetoric “helped create Trump.”
  • His family life became an issue while he was in Congress and inspired a legislative proposal. In 2011, while in Congress, Walsh faced a lawsuit from his ex-wife alleging the then-congressman owed over $100,000 in child support. Walsh settled the case privately but the story led a Democratic state representative in Illinois to introduce a bill that would have banned candidates for office from owing more than $10,000 in child support.
  • After leaving Congress, Walsh spent over five years as a radio talk show host. Walsh began hosting a political talk radio show in Chicago in 2013 after leaving office. The show has been nationally syndicated since 2017.
  • He was pranked by a comedy TV show that tricked him into saying he supported arming children. Walsh said that comedian Sacha Baron Cohen persuaded him to read a teleprompter script that encouraged child firearm training by posing as a fake Israeli terrorism expert. Walsh also called Cohen’s tactics “disgusting” and called for a boycott of Showtime for airing the clip on Cohen’s show.