Joe Walsh? Really?

The Briefing, Vol. VII, Issue 33

September 2, 2019

This week:

  • What Joe Walsh’s candidacy signifies
  • Tate Reeves wins Mississippi governor’s race
  • With Isakson retirement, Georgia set to become ground zero for 2020

Joe Walsh: Ever since his famous 2015 ride down the Trump Tower escalator — and really, even before that — President Trump has been rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. That included people of all races, backgrounds and ideological persuasions.

Trump has since taken on an ideological significance he never had before the 2016 election. But it’s important to remember that this context wasn’t always there. It is now: Trump’s administration has embraced and advanced the conservative agenda in ways no one anticipated. Because so many professional Republicans shied away from joining the Trump administration early on, die-hard conservatives filled nearly all important key positions. This has turned the Trump administration into a conservative dynamo that the Donald Trump of, say, 2001 could never have expected — something that really puts the administration of George W. Bush to shame.

But let’s look back to before the policy or ideology-based outrage. Prior to his nomination, many conservatives viewed Trump warily, as someone with demonstrated liberal political tendencies. But he still drove liberals nuts, even then.

When people talk about Trump Derangement Syndrome, it’s really not enough to point to Trump’s ideas. These could only bring out the same kind of rage-politics that also came out during the Bush and Obama administrations. No, there’s something additional and unique about Trump that just sends people over the edge. 

You can chalk it up, if you like, to his larger-than-life personality; his coarse methods of seizing and dominating public conversation; his vulgar habits of exaggerating and even just making things up; his intemperate habits on social media. 

And perhaps most importantly, Trump respects none of the norms of establishment Washington This last bit especially generates in every American some combination of admiration and disgust. And the disgust is very strong in some surprisingly conservative Republicans.

Enter Joe Walsh. The former congressman and uber-Trump-fan was actually once a liberal Republican striving to turn moderate suburban voters’ heads in the north Chicago suburbs. Walsh changed his tune, however, and won election to the House in 2010. His kookiness made him the first of that legendary House Republican class’s 2012 casualties. 

Walsh, in fact, appears to be everything that disgusts people about Trump but without any of the upsides. Walsh’s intemperate tweets and conspiracy-mongering are actually quite a bit worse than Trump’s. His over-the-top racism cannot be explained away or even plausibly denied. And he can apologize all he likes, but the only people interested in Walsh in the first place are the ones most likely to reject him now because they like Trump more.

In short, Walsh poses no real threat to Trump. But what should seem like Walsh’s insurmountable Trumpiness is somehow no obstacle to the most intense Trump-haters on the right. 

Yes, it’s perfectly understandable that Never-Trumpers would want to field a candidate to run against Trump. But their apparent willingness to settle for Walsh is really…well, just bizarre. Conservative resistance to Trump was supposedly about standards. Is Trump really so terrible that now the very standards that made him so no longer matter at all?

Governor 2019

Mississippi: Labor Day has come and gone, as has the runoff in the off-year primary for governor of Mississippi. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves powered through the runoff last week to win the Republican nomination for the vacant governor’s slot by just eight points. The question now is whether the state’s Republicans are too badly divided for him to defeat Attorney General Jim Hood, by far the strongest candidate the Democrats could have fielded. 

Before the primary and the bitterness it created, what little non-partisan polling there was gave Reeves an edge over Hood, albeit a modest one. Reeves, the more conservative of the Republicans who vied for the nomination and the recipient of term-limited Gov. Phil Bryant’s endorsement, will be pulling whatever strings he needs to in order to win the win the endorsements of his primary rivals and keep the party united behind him. 

The Republican realignment did not reach Mississippi until very late. Ronald Reagan squeaked by to win the Magnolia state in 1980 by just over a percentage point, even as he won a resounding nationwide victory. That same year, only six of the 120 state House members and four of its state senators in Jackson were Republicans. 

Republicans did not break through into the governor’s mansion until the 1990s, and they didn’t really dominate it until former Gov. Haley Barbour’s win in 2003. The state legislature was solidly Democratic until 2007, and it only became solidly Republican in 2012.

This might suggest that Mississippi could elect a relatively conservative Democrat like Hood, much like neighboring Louisiana — another late realignment bloomer — elected a Democratic governor four years ago. But there’s a constitutional wrinkle that works in Reeves’ favor. In order to win the governorship on election day, a candidate must both win a majority of the votes and win a majority in more than half of all state House districts. Otherwise, the race is thrown to the heavily Republican state legislature, where Reeves would likely win.

Senate 2020

Arizona: Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., already faces a daunting challenge from Democrat Mark Kelly. But it now appears she will also face a GOP primary challenge from business executive Daniel McCarthy. He beings as a serious longshot to win the GOP nomination, but he could seriously weaken McSally, whose electoral record is mixed at best.

Georgia: Sen. Johnny Isakson, R, announced that he will be resigning shortly for health reasons. With Georgia already home to a top-tier Senate race, Gov. Brian Kemp, R, will have the opportunity to shape a second race by appointing his replacement.

Whomever Kemp appoints, this will surely make Georgia ground-zero for Democrats in 2020. If they can flip this state, they will have the opportunity to defeat President Trump and possibly gain two Senate seats they would not have otherwise expected to pick up. 

Kemp’s potential choices are legion, and he can probably be counted on to pick a conservative. But Republicans need to be rooting for someone with strong political appeal. Meanwhile, they need to be thinking about Georgia, which might actually prove more important than Texas as a potential breaching point into the solid Republican South.

House 2020

Illinois-15: Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., is retiring, but he will be giving up a southern Illinois district that was designed by Democrats to pack in as many Republicans as possible, part of a scheme to maximize Democratic representation in Illinois. 

Although Republican retirements are stacking up this cycle, this particular retirement is nothing to be too concerned about — it does not represent a Democratic pickup opportunity unless the Republicans Party is being wiped off the map.