This Op-Ed by Joe Walsh appeared in The New York Times on August 14, 2019
There’s a strong case for President Trump to face a Republican primary challenger. I know a thing or two about insurgencies. I entered Congress in 2011 as an insurgent Tea Party Republican. My goals were conservative and clear: restrain executive power and reduce the debt. Barack Obama was president then, and it was easy for us to rail against runaway spending and executive overreach.
Eight years later, Mr. Trump has increased the deficit more than $100 billion year over year — it’s now nearing $1 trillion — and we hear not a word of protest from my former Republican colleagues. He abuses the Constitution for his narcissistic trade war. In private, most congressional Republicans oppose the trade war, but they don’t say anything publicly. But think about this: Mr. Trump’s tariffs are a tax increase on middle-class Americans and are devastating to our farmers. That’s not a smart electoral strategy.
It’s one of the many reasons Mr. Trump is ripe for a primary challenger. In fact, it would buck the historical trend if he didn’t have one. More often than not, unpopular presidents face primary challengers.
Since leaving Congress in 2013, I’ve been the host of my own conservative talk radio show several hours a day, five days a week. The only time a majority of my conservative audience has noticeably broken with the president is when he signed the omnibus spending bill in 2017 that ballooned the deficit. Fiscal responsibility is an issue the American electorate cares about but that our elected officials disregard from the top down — including the Tea Party in the Trump era.
Fiscal matters are only part of it. At the most basic level, Mr. Trump is unfit for office. His lies are so numerous — from his absurd claim that tariffs are “paid for mostly by China, by the way, not by us,” to his prevarication about his crowd sizes, he can’t be trusted.
In Mr. Trump, I see the worst and ugliest iteration of views I expressed for the better part of a decade. To be sure, I’ve had my share of controversy. On more than one occasion, I questioned Mr. Obama’s truthfulness about his religion. 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.
I didn’t vote for Mr. Trump in 2016 because I liked him. I voted for him because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. Once he was elected, I gave him a fair hearing, and tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I soon realized that I couldn’t support him because of the danger he poses to the country, especially the division he sows at every chance, culminating a few weeks ago in his ugly, racist attack on four minority congresswomen.
The fact is, Mr. Trump is a racial arsonist who encourages bigotry and xenophobia to rouse his base and advance his electoral prospects. In this, he inspires imitators.
Republicans should view Mr. Trump as the liability that he is: No matter his flag-hugging, or his military parades, he’s no patriot. In front of the world, he sides with Vladimir Putin over our own intelligence community. That’s dangerous. He encouraged Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he refuses to take foreign threats seriously as we enter the 2020 election. That’s reckless. For three years, he has been at war with our federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as he embraces tyrants abroad and embarrasses our allies. That’s un-American.
And despite what his enablers claim, Mr. Trump isn’t a conservative. He’s reckless on fiscal issues; he’s incompetent on the border; he’s clueless on trade; he misunderstands executive power; and he subverts the rule of law. It’s his poor record that makes him most worthy of a primary challenge.
Mr. Trump has taken the legitimate differences that Americans have on policy and turned them into personal division. He’s caused me to change my tone and to reflect upon where I went over the line and to focus on policy differences moving forward.
We now have a president who retweets conspiracy theories implicating his political opponents in Jeffrey Epstein’s death. We now have a president who does his level best to avoid condemning white supremacy and white nationalism.
Yes, William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, is challenging Mr. Trump from the center. But the president is more vulnerable to a challenge from the right. I’m on the right, and I’m hugely disappointed that challenge hasn’t yet materialized.
Mr. Trump’s most vulnerable against a challenger who’d make the case for strong borders — instead of warning of “invaders,” dragging us down, turning neighbor against neighbor. A majority of Americans want fixes to our most basic problems.
We need someone who could stand up, look the president in the eye and say: “Enough, sir. We’ve had enough of your indecency. We’ve had enough of your lies, your bullying, your cruelty, enough of your insults, your daily drama, your incitement, enough of the danger you place this country in every single day. We don’t want any of this anymore, and the country certainly can’t stand four more years of it.”