This is IJR’s fourth segment of The 2020 Twenty. We’re asking every 2020 presidential candidate 20 questions on their plans, policies, outlook, and background as well as some lighter ones to help our readers get to know the people and their personalities as they compete to run the country.
Former Congressman Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) is one of three Republicans to enter the presidential primary against President Donald Trump. He’s been quick to label Trump a “bigot” and “unfit” for the White House, but he’s also working to overcome his own controversial statements on Twitter and from his long career in talk radio.
As one of the biggest voices to come out of the Tea Party movement, Walsh offers a staunchly conservative platform that counters some of Trump’s bigger-government positions, especially when it comes to growing the national debt and dealing with big tech companies.
While he faces nearly impossible pathway to the Republican nomination, it’s clear that Walsh plans to take on Trump at his own game and won’t be pulling any punches in the process.
1. As president, what would be your day one, number one priority?
It would probably be to sit down with all Republican and Democrat leaders and immediately begin a serious big boy, big girl discussion about what we do about health care in this country because health care is the greatest driver of our national federal debt.
Would that involve reforms to Medicare and Medicaid?
Yes. I would demand that both parties grow up and reform these entitlement programs because, look, I went to D.C. ten years ago about the debt and deficit and we’re all ignoring what the problem is — both parties are. To me, it’s Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and now, Obamacare. Until we get a handle on all of this stuff, nothing else from the federal government matters.
Would these changes be small reforms or an overhaul of the entitlements system?
The entitlement system, as it exists, is unsustainable. And every Republican and every Democrat knows that. And every Republican and every Democrat — though the Democrats do this one more than Republicans — they play politics with these entitlements. So everybody’s afraid to touch them. But, yes, they have to be reformed to be saved. Here’s the deal, the American people are living longer, and longer, and longer. That’s a good thing. Paying for the health care for the American people living longer, and longer, and longer, right now, that’s the biggest part of our federal budget. And it’s growing the fastest. So, until we get our arms around that, nothing else matters. You can cut defense spending, you can cut non-defense discretionary spending, and you won’t even dent the federal debt until we figure out these entitlements.
2. In your New York Times op-ed, you called for someone to primary President Trump from the right. You noted in your piece that Weld is challenging from the center. What do you think about Mark Sanford’s entry into the race?
Two reactions: First, again, this is America. So unlike President Trump who is canceling elections, right? We’ve seen that: South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, and Kansas. They’re literally canceling primary elections. Anybody can run. Mark Sanford, like Bill Weld, is a nice guy. But here’s the deal: Mark Sanford has said that he can’t win. I don’t know why you would run against Trump if you didn’t think you could win. Mark Sanford has said that he wants to run to start a conversation about the debt. This isn’t about the debt. This is about Trump. Period. Trump is unfit and he’s a danger to the country. And, finally, Mark Sanford said that, if Trump wins the nomination, Mark Sanford will vote for Trump in the general. That’s crazy to me. If Donald Trump is unfit to be president and he’s a danger to the country, there’s no way you can vote for him next year. So Mark Sanford’s a good guy, a nice guy, but I think the only reason you primary President Trump is because he’s unfit. He’s a danger to the country. And that’s what needs to be said.
3. The RNC does not seem interested in entertaining a primary race and four states have announced they will not be holding nominating conventions in their state. What pathway do you see forward for your campaign?
Well, first off, we’re going to fight these four states. Period. Because, again, this isn’t Russia and this isn’t China. And I don’t know what Sanford or Weld are going to say about these things, and they don’t seem to be saying that much, but I tell you what, my campaign is going to make this a huge issue about what these four states have done. They’ve canceled elections. They disenfranchised voters. So we are going to go directly to the American people. We’re going to go directly to Republican voters in those four states to get Republican voters in those four states to convince their parties in those four states, to change what they just did. I know there are organizations out there looking at legal options and any other options. We intend to be on the ballot in all 50 states.
Would you consider a third-party run?
Again, people ask me about that all the time and I guess I’m all over the map on that all the time. My focus right now is on primarying Donald Trump in the Republican Party primary and that’s all I care about right now.
4. What kind of music do you plan to listen to on the campaign trail?
If I said Tom Petty and anything like Tom Petty. That would be it. You know, kind of like classic rock-and-roll. I grew up in the 70s and 80s so all that good classic rock stuff I love.
5. Do you support the legalization of marijuana?
6. You’ve called Trump racist, bigoted, and unfit for the presidency, but many of those same labels have been used against you for contributing to the “birther conspiracy” about President Obama and for questioning why Americans would want Muslims in the U.S. By your own admission, you’ve said racist things. How do you plan to address this from the campaign trail?
Because I do believe Donald Trump’s a racist and a bigot and I know I’m not. There’s a big difference in the two of us. Donald Trump, it’s kind of a weird thing. All Trump cares about is Trump. So Trump will use racism and bigotry and xenophobia and anything — he’ll use anything if it helps Trump. I have always been obsessed with the issue of race. It’s an issue I care about. I have a podcast separate from the campaign with a black radio host from the city of Chicago. It’s called “Uncomfortable Conversations.” And he and I get together once a week and we talk about issues of race and racism.
In my interest in race, have I stepped over the line sometimes and really pushed the envelope sometimes to be provocative, to get people thinking about race? Yes. Have I tweeted some stupid, offensive and even things that could be interpreted as racist sometimes? Yes. And all I can do as best as I can is apologize when I went over the line. But I’m about pushing the envelope because I want to try to get people thinking because I’m trying to push ideas. All Trump does is push Trump.
7. Do you have any hidden talents?
I am a dog whisperer. I’ve got three dogs. I wish I had 33 dogs. I love dogs. I relate to dogs, probably better than I relate to people.
8. You’ve called Trump’s trade war “narcissistic” while he argues that China has been cheating the U.S. on issues like currency devaluation and intellectual property theft. Do you see China behavior as a threat to the U.S.?
Yes. And this is a classic example of Trump just being an incompetent moron. Yeah, China cheats. We know that. Yeah, we’ve got to address what China has been doing. But Donald Trump went about it the wrong way. And the American people are hurting profoundly because of what Donald Trump has done. I think upwards of, right now, $2,000 per household Trump’s tariffs are costing the American people.
China cheats. So what Trump should have done, and what I would have done at the beginning was rally the whole world. A big coalition of the whole world to unite against China. Trump did the opposite. Trump, when he became president, he imposed tariffs against everybody and then he went after China all by himself. It’s been an utter disaster. The only way you deal with China is to develop a big, broad, coalition of countries to sanction and go after China.
9. Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” something you have criticized him for. What role do you believe the government plays in addressing climate change?
Look, it’s not a hoax. And this is an issue that Republicans need to at least get to the table with and be part of the discussion. We don’t just want the Democrats and some of the — there are radicals in every movement. There are radicals in the climate change movement, as well. Republicans need to sit at the table, acknowledge it’s a problem. And be open to man’s part in causing climate change. And then be part of figuring out solutions. Figuring out solutions that protect the greatest economy in the world, as well. But first and foremost, Republicans have to acknowledge that it’s real and then be part of figuring out what we need to do about it.
10. You have blamed Trump for the crisis at the border and said that he has “taken this issue to a dark, bigoted, xenophobic place that no one should believe in.” You also support strong borders and oppose illegal immigration. How would your immigration policy differ from President Trump’s?
Well, the difference is: Trump turned it into an ugly, dark, bigoted thing. Look, I want anybody of any color of any creed — I don’t care where you come from. If you want to come to America and you want to wrap your arms around our values, our Constitution, we welcome you. No matter what your color is; no matter what your creed is. As long as you come here legally. Trump, though, has made it an issue of white people versus brown people. And he’s always picking on brown people and telling them to go back.
This is another example of Trump’s incompetence. All he talked about was, ‘I’m going to build a wall and I’m going to make Mexico pay for it.’ That was a lie. But all Trump knows is a wall. Things are worse at the border now than they were when Trump got elected because all he can talk about is the wall. What’s going on at the border right now has nothing to do with the wall. The wall should be a part of it, but we’ve got people coming here claiming asylum. They have a legal right to do that. We’ve got to put the resources into our border to facilitate these asylum requests as quickly as we can.
11. If you could get a drink with any previous president, who would it be?
Calvin Coolidge. Because I think he was cool, man. He believed in limited government and he didn’t want to work too hard. I like that. I like people in government who don’t obsess over government and they want to do it 24/7.
12. You have noted that some Republicans defend their support for President Trump to his placement of two conservative justices on the Supreme Court. The next president would likely fill two Supreme Court seats. Would your picks differ from the types of justices chosen by Trump?
No, probably not. [Justice] Neil Gorsuch is an all-star. [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh, I’m not as enamored with Kavanaugh, but this is one area where Trump wisely just farmed it out to smart people to pick good, conservative justices. Those would be the kind of justices I would pick, as well.
13. What do you see as the greatest foreign policy threat facing the United States?
I’d still say, generally, it’s the situation in the Middle East and it’s Islamism and still the rise of Islamic terror. The United States, again, needs to lead and needs to lead countries from around the world to help — it’s not our job — but to help Islam reform so that Islamism is not such a threat, not just to that region, but the whole world.
14. Is there any part of your childhood that might have prepared you to be president?
Yeah. It’s lonely. Politics is lonely and it’s lonely to run for president. And it would probably be really kind of lonely to be president. I grew up in a family of nine kids. I was the middle child and I kind of grew up alone in a family of nine, if that sounds kind of funny. It’s true. So I’m used to the highs and the lows. And I would imagine there would be a lot of highs and lows if you were president.
15. You are pro-life and have spoken out against laws that allow late-term abortions, such as the law passed in New York. Are there any situations in which you support access to abortion?
Well, I’m pro-life without exception. And so, I guess my answer would be no. And I know the life of the mother and all of that, that’s important. But that’s, you know, when it comes down to that, the mother and the doctor save the life of the mother and then do the best they can to save the life of the baby. So, again, you try to save the life.
Would you support federal restrictions on abortion or would you leave that to the states?
Leave it to the states.
16. Your focus has been on defeating President Trump, but there is a crowded field of Democrats running to be president, as well. What do you make of the field?
It’s a big, diverse field because right now the Democratic Party has a lot of big, diverse interests. I think there’s a lot of energy on the Democratic side. We saw that energy come out in 2018. I tend to think that it almost doesn’t matter who the Democrats nominate because I think there’s such resistance to Donald Trump. I think if the focus is on Trump in 2020, the Democrats will win. If the focus is on anything else, I think the Democrats will probably lose.
17. What is one embarrassing moment that’s happened to you lately?
I have a hard time at airports. I get lost at airports. I really do. I forget what airport I was at, but within the last month and a half, I found myself at the wrong gate and I started to get on the wrong airplane and I caught myself in the nick of time. But I’m one of those people. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if I ended up on the wrong airplane sometime.
18. You’ve said it is not the government’s role to intervene in decisions made by big tech companies such as Facebook and Google — even if they are biased. With Americans turning to Google for 63% of their internet searches, do you fear that is too much power for one company to have?
That’s a great question. I always worry about private companies having too much power, becoming a monopoly. But I always worry more about government intervention. When it comes to big tech, when it comes to Facebook and Google, and the power they have, I generally am of the opinion: let the market work. Government has a role to investigate and look into potential monopolies, but we should always be very, very careful before we advocate any sort of government intervention.
19. The U.S. has been involved in the Middle East since 2001. Do you support pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan?
I have for a long, long time. American troops should have been home a long, long time ago. Completely out of Afghanistan.
Do you fear that pulling troops out completely could further destabilize the region?
No, because here’s the deal. It’s not our job. It’s not our job to reform that region. The Islamic world has to reform itself. We can help. We can provide inspiration, education, and maybe some resources to help the Islamic world reform, but not American bodies and American troops. It’s not our fight.
20. With the recent mass shootings in mind, what would you do to curb gun violence?
Look, I’m a big Second Amendment guy. I’m a big gun rights guy. Period. We have plenty of gun control laws on the books. I don’t believe the problem is guns, okay? In fact, gun crime and gun violence and gun homicides are way, way, way down in this country over the last 30 or 40 years. That’s a fact. Now we do have this problem of an increase in mass shootings. I don’t think this problem has anything to do with guns. I think there are other issues we need to look at.
But having said all of that, universal background checks. Sure. I think that’s a reform that we ought to look at. If I go to a gun dealer, I have to get a background check to buy a gun. If my friend across town wants to sell me his gun, I should still have to undergo a background check. So I’m fine with universal background checks, as long as they’re carefully done.
The other reform we ought to look at is Red Flag laws.
(Editor’s note: Red Flag laws allow law enforcement to confiscate the weapons from an individual if a judge agrees he or she is a threat based on an alert from family or law enforcement. Critics of such laws fear that it could violate due process because the individual lacks the opportunity to stand before a judge prior to the confiscation.)
I mean, this is one area where if people demonstrate through their own behavior that they’ve got no business having a gun. Yes, we ought to look at that. But be very careful. These Red Flag laws need to be carefully tailored so that they do not infringe upon Constitutional rights, but I’ve got no problem with law enforcement and loved ones, if done right, petitioning a court to say, ‘This guy here shouldn’t have a gun. There are issues.’ So that’s another area we can and should look at.