Concord Monitor: All three Trump primary challengers campaign in New Hampshire

This article by Paul Steinhauser appeared in the Concord Monitor on 10/13/2019.

You’d expect Joe Walsh to blast President Donald Trump. And Walsh – a former one-term congressman from Illinois who’s one of three Republicans challenging the president in the GOP primary – didn’t disappoint.

Asked about the U.S. House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the president, Walsh told the Monitor that Trump is “going to be impeached. He should be impeached. He’s going to be a disaster if he’s at the top of our ticket next year.”

Trump is under fire over his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he urged Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter over their dealings in the eastern European country that’s been battling Russia. Fueled by whistleblower complaints and a transcript of the call released by the White House, Democrats argue the president was asking a foreign country to potentially interfere in a U.S. election.

Trump has repeatedly insisted that he did nothing wrong and has on numerous occasions described his conversation with the Ukrainian leader as “perfect.”

But Walsh charged that Trump is a traitor: “When you invite and or pressure a foreign government to screw around with our elections, that’s a betrayal of this country. Trump’s done that from the moment he got elected. He’s probably the most disloyal president this country’s ever had.”

But Walsh saved some of his criticism for one of the two other Republicans challenging Trump: former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford.

Sanford has repeatedly emphasized that he launched his uphill presidential campaign to spark a conversation about the skyrocketing federal deficits and the national debt, while acknowledging that defeating the incumbent president in the GOP primaries is nearly impossible.

That didn’t sit well with Walsh, who said that idea is “silly” and that “I’m in this to win. This is a pain in the ass. I’ve been at this for a month. This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I’m not in it to start a conversation about the debt.”

And he said that Sanford is “not serious” about taking on Trump.

Last month Sanford said he would vote for the president next year if Trump wins the GOP nomination and a progressive candidate captures the Democratic nomination.

“I’m going to vote conservative and I’m going to vote for the conservative choice,” he said.

Walsh again targeted Sanford, saying that if “Trump is the eventual nominee, Sanford’s going to vote for him. That’s like crazy. Trump’s unfit. He’s a danger to the country. Sanford’s not serious.”

Walsh’s comments came as he, Sanford and the third GOP primary challenger, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, were all campaigning in New Hampshire this past week.

Asked about the criticism from Walsh, Sanford told the Monitor that “I can’t imagine anything more serious than debt and deficit and government spending.”

And he emphasized that “issues are the bedrock to what political change and debate and elections are all about. I’m talking about real issues and will continue to do so.”

Polling indicates the president remains extremely popular among Republicans and crushes his GOP challengers in the latest primary surveys.

But Walsh insists Trump’s “support is soft.”

Pointing to Republicans he’s talked to on the campaign trail who support a primary challenge to the president, Walsh said: “Almost everyone said, ‘Yeah, I’m sick of it. Yeah, I’m exhausted with him, but what else am I going to do.’ I hear that over and over.

“I think that the vast majority of Republicans don’t want four more years of this president’s bull----. I just don’t think they do,” he insisted.

Walsh arrived in the Granite State as Weld was campaigning in the state. Weld is targeting independents, who can vote in New Hampshire’s GOP primary as well as contests in nearly two-dozen other states.

“I’ve got a different strategy. I’m going right at Republican voters,” Walsh said.

And he predicted that “it will work itself out. . . . Bill Weld’s a great guy. He seems to be focused on New Hampshire. I don’t think Mark Sanford is serious at all. I don’t know how long he’ll be around. I think this race will coalesce around one alternative to Trump.”

Walsh has baggage of his own. After jumping into the race this summer, he apologized for past racist comments on Twitter.

“There have been times over the last six or seven years when I went over my skis and said things that I regretted,” he noted. “I’ve apologized for helping to create Trump, for helping to create the toxic environment that helped to create Trump. Look, I was part of that Tea Party wave in 2010. I went to D.C. to raise hell about all of this debt and the bankrupting of the country by both parties.”

Sanford was dealt a setback recently when Republicans in his home state of South Carolina – which holds the first Southern primary in the presidential nominating calendar – canceled the contest.

That’s forced Sanford to “refocus on the Granite State.”

“It’s vital,” he told the Monitor.

Nevada, which votes third in the primary calendar – just ahead of South Carolina – also canceled its Republican presidential contest.

And last Monday, Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee announced that they’d completed a month’s-long process to tighten their grasp on the delegate selection process for next year’s GOP convention in a bid to prevent the kind of discord that flared at the 2016 convention.

A Trump campaign official said their goal is to make sure the 2020 convention is a “four-day advertisement for the president and not an internal debate among activists.”

The move would come at the expense of the GOP primary challengers.

Sanford said that “coronations are nice but they’re not particularly helpful to the working, regular day folks that fall under them. I don’t think this is good for the Republican Party at large.”

Walsh, as expected, was less diplomatic.

He accused the Trump campaign and the RNC of “rigging the game in state after state.”

“I think the Republican Party knows Trump’s in trouble. I think they know he’s weak. I think they basically know he’s imploding every week so they’re doing whatever they can to protect him. It’s undemocratic,” he added.

But Weld, who’s campaigned in New Hampshire nonstop since launching his campaign in April, said those changes were just fine with him.

“In the six New England states, I plan to run a lot stronger than 15 or 20 percent. They changed the rule in Massachusetts from proportional to winner take all. I thought that was terrific. I aim to win New Hampshire and Massachusetts and I hope Vermont,” Weld said optimistically. “I kind of like this as far as New England is concerned.”

As Weld, Sanford and Walsh continue to make their way along the Granite State campaign trail without much fanfare or media coverage, former two-term Ohio Gov. John Kasich may re-enter the primary challenge conversation.

Kasich, who came in second in the 2016 GOP first-in-the-nation presidential primary and who long flirted with the idea of taking on Trump again, may soon be back in the Granite State.

Two top New Hampshire allies of the former Ohio governor tell the Monitor that Kasich’s upcoming trip to New Hampshire – first advertised a couple of months ago – is still on and is likely to occur in early November. That’s around the time the 2016 Republican presidential candidate and vocal Trump critic will be on a tour for his latest book, It’s Up to Us: Ten Little Ways We Can Bring About Big Change.

Of course a stop in New Hampshire would once again fuel speculation that Kasich may join Weld, Sanford and Walsh in a primary challenge of the president.