Former Illinois congressman and Tea Party favorite turned radio talk show host Joe Walsh announced Sunday that he would challenge President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020.
Walsh said the president was “completely unfit” for office. He joins former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld in the race. Walsh promised to contest Trump from the right as opposed to Weld, who is regarded as fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Weld was the 2016 Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee.
GOP legislators representing McHenry County don’t yet have a strong opinion on the matter.
“I don’t have any thoughts on that,” said state Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, when asked for opinion on Walsh’s announcement Sunday.
State Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry said time would tell.
“I have no comment at this time,” Wilcox said. “I will be waiting to see how he handles his campaign.”
State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said he hasn’t spoken with Walsh about the announcement and didn’t know how the campaign would play out.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I don’t know what he is thinking. I haven’t talked to him about it and I don’t want to speculate.”
State Rep David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills said he didn’t expect Walsh to be successful.
“It’s clear that he will not be the GOP nominee for president,” McSweeney said in a statement.
State Rep Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, didn’t respond to a request for comment Sunday.
Walsh narrowly won a House seat from suburban Chicago in the 2010 Tea Party wave but lost a 2012 reelection bid and has since hosted a radio talk show. He has a history of inflammatory statements regarding Muslims and others and declared just before the 2016 election that if Trump lost, “I’m grabbing my musket.”
But he has since soured on Trump, criticizing the president in a recent New York Times column over growth of the federal deficit and calling him “a racial arsonist who encourages bigotry and xenophobia to rouse his base.”
Republican challengers face a long road ahead.
Polling consistently shows that Trump has the solid backing of an overwhelming majority of Republican voters. An Associated Press-NORC poll conducted this month found that 78% of Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance. That number has been hovering around 80% even as repeated scandals have rocked his presidency.
“Look, this isn’t easy to do. ... I’m opening up my life to tweets and attacks. Everything I’ve said and tweeted now, Trump’s going to go after, and his bullies are going to go after,” Walsh said in an interview with ABC.
Asked whether he was prepared for that, Walsh replied: “Yes, I’m ready for it.”
Walsh, 57, rode a wave of anti-President Barack Obama sentiment to a 300-vote victory over a Democratic incumbent in the 2010 election. He made a name for himself in Washington as a cable news fixture who was highly disparaging of Obama.
Walsh was criticized for saying that the Democratic Party’s “game” is to make Latinos dependent on government just like “they got African Americans dependent upon government.” At another point, he said radical Muslims are in the U.S. “trying to kill Americans every week,” including in Chicago’s suburbs.
He lost his 2012 reelection bid by more than 20,000 votes to Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who was elected to the U.S. Senate four years later.
Walsh wrote in his New York Times column that “In Mr. Trump, I see the worst and ugliest iteration of views I expressed for the better part of a decade.”
“On more than one occasion, I questioned Mr. Obama’s truthfulness about his religion,” Walsh wrote. “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.”
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.