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Joe Walsh Is Here to Reveal What Republicans Really Think About Trump

September 4, 2019
Joe Walsh Is Here to Reveal What Republicans Really Think About Trump

1. Joe Walsh

While I was at the beach last week a bunch of stuff happened but I want to focus today on the big development: Woke Joe Walsh.

There are two ways of looking at politics: By thinking about what should happen and analyzing what will happen.

On the should side of the Walsh campaign, I’ve seen a lot of people saying that Walsh 2020 is a bad idea for conservatives.

Maybe it is!

But it will be deeply clarifying exercise for Trump-supporting conservatives.

From the dawn of Trump, most Republicans and conservatives have insisted that:

  • Border security is the single most important issue; everything else is a side-show. And so Trump had to be supported because he was the only candidate who would build the wall.
  • Trump’s character was a liability, yes. And his deportment and norm-breaking were not selling points.
  • But that elections are binary choices. And so anyone who didn’t look past Trump’s character to the raw ideological difference between him and his opponents was a cuck or a lib or a RINO or whatever.

If those are the rules of the road, the Walsh candidacy will be deeply revealing.

First: Where is the wall? It does not exist. As president, Donald Trump has replaced a couple hundred miles of existing fencing. That’s it. Not one single mile of new wall has been built.

What’s worse, he explicitly rejected Paul Ryan’s plan to get the wall funded and built right out of the gate.

Make no mistake: Trump had a chance to get the wall built and he chose his massive corporate tax cut instead.

It will be hard for anyone to believe that Walsh is less serious about protecting the border than Trump has been.

Second: Is Walsh more of a norm-breaker than Trump? He may have trafficked in unsavory stuff in the past, but it’s small beer compared with “send her back” and “grab ’em by the pussy” and cracking a joke when one of his supporters suggests shooting immigrants.

Third: If the Republican primary contest in, say, New Hampshire, really is a binary choice between Walsh and Trump, then there is no ideological reason for Republicans who say they care about immigration or conservative policies not to vote for Walsh.

If Republicans choose Trump over Walsh, the only rational explanation is that they’re voting for Trump’s character. The bug that they tried desperately to bury three years ago has become the defining feature of the product.

In other words: You don’t choose Trump over Walsh in spite of “send her back” and all the rest. You choose Trump over Walsh because of it.

And if that’s what Republican voters do, it will be clarifying. Is that helpful? Perhaps not, in terms of the long-run future of the Republican party or the conservative movement.

But in the long run, we’re all dead.

2. New Hampshire

In the meantime, there’s a lot of noise from Trump supporters about how terrible Walsh is because he once tweeted this or said that. And fair enough. He did say and tweet lots of bad stuff.

But if your’e the type of Republican who finds that sort of thing disqualifying, then you should be voting for Bill Weld.

Anyway, let’s get away from the shoulds and focus on what will happen.

I feel pretty confident in suggesting that Donald Trump is an overwhelming favorite to win the Republican nomination. For him to lose the nomination he would probably have to pull a Lyndon Johnson.

But that doesn’t mean that Walsh’s candidacy is meaningless. And Trump supporters trying to laugh it off are whistling past the graveyard.

Today Noah Rothman underscores a point I’ve been making for months now: That Trump has positively invited a primary opponent.

  • Trump has actively antagonized certain bands of Republican voters (namely suburban, college-educated whites) and their elected representatives.
  • He has actively betrayed long-standing conservative orthodoxies on fiscal responsibility and free-trade.
  • And he has been deeply, historically, unpopular.

At this point, 14 months from his reelection, Trump trails all of his potential Democratic rivals. He trails his most-likely opponent by double-digits.

This is happening with the second-lowest unemployment rate in half a century.

If Trump isn’t the weakest incumbent president since Johnson, then he’s second on the list behind Jimmy Carter.

Always remember: Weakness is a provocation.

So Trump was basically destined to get a primary challenger. Now he has two of them. And he might get a third.

Are these three going to win enough delegates to capture the nomination?

I would not bet the milk money on that, no.

But could they poll well enough to frighten any political professional?

You betcha.

It is not crazy—not crazy at all—to think that some combination of Walsh, Weld, and Candidate X could combine to get something like 38 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.

Because “success” in a primary challenge isn’t about winning the nomination. It’s about setting a course for the future.

Sometimes that course change is about ideology, as it was with  Ronald Reagan in his 1976 challenge to President Ford.

Sometimes it’s about trying to unwind the party’s relationship with an unpopular politician, which is what Ted Kennedy did in 1980 to President Carter.

Sometimes it’s both, like with Pat Buchanan’s 1992 challenge to President Bush.

But whether or not Walsh 2020 is a good thing, it’s a thing that is happening. And it might turn out to matter.

3. Death on the Mountain

I don’t know what alpinism makes for such great writing, but it really does. This is from Outside:

Howse Peak is a 10,800-foot twin-tipped spire rising from the Continental Divide between British Columbia and Alberta’s Banff National Park. The area is remote, no cell service or snack bars, although Howse is plainly visible from lonely Icefields Parkway, which bisects Banff just a few miles from the mountain. Only the most serious climbers would consider ascending its east face, a sheer 3,000-foot wall of sedimentary rock marbled with an intricate network of snow and ice. Its most fearsome route, M-16—echoing the name of the machine gun, because of the frozen detritus that routinely showers down it—has only been completed once, 20 years ago, by a three-man team during a perilous five-day effort. One of the men, Steve House, later wrote that the climb entailed “one of the hardest pitches of my life.”

On Monday, April 15, 2019, three of the best alpinists in the world—David Lama, 28, from Innsbruck, Austria; Hansjörg Auer, 35, from Umhausen, Austria; and Jess Roskelley, 36, from Spokane, Washington—skied to Howse and set up a tent in a snow-filled basin, with plans to attempt M-16, or a variation of it, early the next morning. The trio had been in the area for almost a month, staging out of a condo in Canmore. All three were members of the North Face climbing team, a storied group of mountain athletes created in 1992 that includes luminaries like Conrad Anker, Peter Athans, Emily Harrington, Alex Honnold, and Jimmy Chin, among others.

Alpinism is climbing’s most demanding discipline, involving the most objective hazards on the most challenging routes of steep, often fragile snow, ice, and rock. It hardly resembles what most people recognize as mountaineering these days, which is to say the sad circus on Mount Everest or the trade routes on Mount Rainier and Mount Hood. To alpinists, style is everything. Proper progression involves climbing light and fast, with minimal gear and maximum self-­sufficiency. First ascents are cherished, though repeating lines of significant difficulty also earns respect. The margin of error is alarmingly thin, and the sport has a long roster of casualties. Roskelley had recently told his younger sister, Jordan, a yoga instructor who works with the Gonzaga men’s basketball team: “If those guys make a mistake, they lose a game. If I make a mistake, I die.”

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.