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Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)
Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)Mark Black / AP

Exiting the 2020 primary, Walsh describes the GOP as a 'cult'

What's notable is less the fact that Joe Walsh is exiting the presidential race; it's more about how he's leaving the stage.


It was widely assumed that in the wake of Iowa's presidential caucuses, at least some White House hopefuls would suffer disappointing showings and exit the 2020 race. We're starting to see some evidence of that, though it's not quite what many expected.

Because of the muddled Democratic picture, none of 11 candidates vying for the party's presidential nomination has quit as a result of the Iowa caucuses. But as we learned this morning, former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), one of the Donald Trump's Republican rivals, is exiting the stage.

Walsh came in at only 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses, despite spending considerable time in the state in recent months. Walsh told CNN that "any Democrat" would be better than Trump and vowed to help support the eventual nominee, but declined to say which candidate in the opposing party would receive his backing.

With Walsh's exit, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is the president's lone challenger in the race ahead of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.

By any fair estimate, Walsh was a longshot against an incumbent Republican president with an intense intra-party base of support, but the former Illinois congressman's chances effectively evaporated when a series of state GOP officials scrapped primary contests altogether, making it impossible for Republicans to vote against Trump, even if they wanted to.

There is a degree of irony to the circumstances: as Republicans peddle baseless conspiracy theories about the "Democratic establishment" trying to "rig" the party's primaries, it's GOP officials who shamelessly stacked the deck.

In Walsh's case, however, what's notable is less the fact that he's departing the race, and more how he's departing the race.

The Illinois Republican didn't seriously expect to become his party's presidential nominee in 2020, but he wanted to hit the road, share his ideas, and gauge conservative voters' appetite for a brand of politics that's far different from what Donald Trump is offering.

It's against this backdrop that Walsh wrote a Washington Post op-ed yesterday, highlighting some of his experiences. The former GOP lawmaker wrote that he "didn't fully realize ... how brainwashed so many of my fellow Republicans seem to have become." Walsh grudgingly conceded that he believes his party "now resembles a cult."

I went to a caucus and gave a speech to about 3,000 Iowa Republicans.... I then got up to make my pitch, and -- as you may have seen -- it didn't go well. I got booed for saying that our party needed to do some soul-searching. I said the party is going to be a party of old white men unless we become more inclusive. More boos. I said we shouldn't be okay with a president who lies all the time. I said we need a president who's decent, not cruel. I said, you might enjoy Trump's mean tweets, but most people don't. I said we must be better than a president who makes every day about himself. Boos. And more boos. One woman yelled that she loves the president's tweets. The crowd cheered her. [...]

[L]eaving the caucus that night, I realized once and for all that nobody can beat Trump in a Republican primary. Not just because it's become his party, but because it has become a cult, and he's a cult leader. He doesn't have supporters; he has followers. And in their eyes, he can do no wrong.

They're being spoon-fed a daily dose of B.S. from "conservative" media. They don't know what the truth is and -- more importantly -- they don't care. There's nothing that any Republican challenger can do to break them out of this spell.

For those unfamiliar with Walsh's congressional career, the Illinois Republican was generally seen as one of the more unapologetic conservatives on Capitol Hill. No one, anywhere, ever accused him of being a "moderate." On the contrary, he was a Tea Party firebrand.

But Walsh has no use for Trump or his antics, and as of this morning, he's prepared to vote against him in the next presidential election. "I would vote for any Democrat over Donald Trump, because I firmly believe Trump is a bigger threat," Walsh said on CNN.

MORE: Today's Maddowblog