Let’s start here: Joe Walsh isn’t beating Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican primary.
But just because the former one-term congressman from Illinois isn’t going to win doesn’t mean he can’t have an impact on the coming 2020 campaign – and on the President’s state of mind for the next six months or so. And judging from what Walsh told CNN’s Erica Hill on Monday, he’s got the right plan to do just that.
“We’re going to get in the President’s face every day,” Walsh promised.
That’s actually a very sound strategy if your main goal is to ultimately beat Trump – even if Walsh himself won’t be the one doing it. Here’s why.
1. Walsh isn’t going to raise much money. He doesn’t have a national donor base. Trump controls all levers of the Republican political and fundraising apparatus. There’s very little chance Walsh will even raise enough money to fund any sustained TV ad campaign – either nationally or in an early state like Iowa or New Hampshire.
2. Given No. 1, the only way Walsh gets attention is to do lots and lots of cable TV appearances. Which, if Monday is any guide, he will do! At one point, Walsh was on CNN and MSNBC at the same time! (One of the appearances was taped.)
3. Trump’s main frame on politics (and life) is cable TV. It’s how he gets the bulk of his information, outrage and inspiration.
4. Trump is incapable of letting an attack go unanswered, no matter where it comes from.
Those four factors suggest that, if Walsh makes good on his “get in the President’s face every day” pledge, there is a decent chance he could have an influence in the presidential race that extends beyond his chances of actually toppling Trump, which, as I noted above, are pretty damn close to zero.
What Trump should do is totally ignore Walsh – no matter what the former Illinois congressman says about him. The rule in politics (and life) is that you don’t punch down because, in so doing, you elevate the person below you on the totem pole.
Trump has never been good at following that advice. In the second Republican primary debate of the 2016 race, where Trump was the frontrunner and Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) a flailing afterthought, the billionaire couldn’t resist hitting Paul. “I never attacked him on his look and believe me there’s plenty of subject matter there,” Trump said. It was probably Paul’s best moment of the debate because it allowed him to get in a fight with the favorite and, for a moment at least, be relevant in the race.
Now, it’s possible Trump has turned over a new leaf. A quick search of his Twitter feed shows that he has yet to mention former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld by name despite the fact that Weld has been running a primary campaign against him for months.
But Weld – stylistically – is a reserved Boston Brahmin. He’s not a street brawler. He’s not, to borrow Walsh’s term, going to get into the President’s face every day.
Walsh, on the other hand, made his name for being a controversial lightning rod – in and out of office. During his time as a conservative radio talk show host, he pushed the debunked idea that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and dabbled in decidedly racist rhetoric. (“I wouldn’t call myself a racist, but I’ve said racist things on Twitter,” Walsh acknowledged in an MSNBC interview Monday.)
It’s possible that even if Walsh is on cable hitting Trump hard every day, the President ignores it all, knowing that distracting himself with a fight against a guy who has zero chance of beating him is a losing endeavor – and that he is best served by keeping his focus on the general election and his Democratic opponents.
But this is Donald Trump we’re talking about, people. And walking away from attacks is, well, not really his thing.