Poor old Joe Walsh had no idea his little town hall would get national attention when he said his opponent, Tammy Duckworth, might have lost her legs in the Iraq war but wasn't a true hero. Right? The Illinois congressman just got caught thinking out loud about public service and life and death and never thought this might stir up bloggy outrage, right? Actually no. Walsh is an experienced troll, and he already floated his war-wounds-are-no-big-deal talking point in the national media earlier this year. It only got a moderate level of attention in March, but enough to know that insulting wounded veterans is a good way to light up the blogs. And the Fourth of July holiday offers the perfect opportunity to try it a second time. This is Profiles in Politrolling, our occasional series on the people behind the news outrage of the day.
Outrage of the Day: Walsh said that unlike other war heroes like John McCain, Duckworth blabs about actually fighting in a war all the time. "Now I’m running against a woman who, my God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about," Walsh said, as Think Progress reports. The topic of "real heroes do X" is usually left to real heroes, if not just as a matter of taste, then for strategic reasons: once you say that combat veterans have never done anything special, you invite the rest of the country to call you out as a wimp. (Think Progress begins its post on Walsh's comments with the phrase, "Though he never joined the military himself…") But that's not how trolls roll and trolling is Walsh's specialty. He tested this non-hero line of attack back in a March interview with Politico: "What else has she done? Female, wounded veteran … ehhh," Walsh said. "She is nothing more than a handpicked Washington bureaucrat. David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel just picked her up and dropped her into this district." And the blogs reacted with all due outrage.
Background: Joe Walsh was elected to the House of Representatives in the Tea Party wave of 2010, his third (and only successful) run for public office. But his history sounds a lot more like Barack Obama's than your typical conservative protest candidate. He was born in Chicago, took theater lessons in New York and Los Angeles, got an advanced degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, worked as a college professor, worked as a social worker in inner-city Chicago and for the bleeding-heart program Jobs for Youth. That was all to promote conservative causes, though, as his site says: "As a life-long advocate for limited government and a vibrant private sector, Joe is troubled by the recent rapid growth of government spending and involvement in our lives." Walsh has had his struggles in his personal life, like when his ex-wife sued him, saying he owed $117,000 in unpaid child support. They settled in April.
Previous Stunts: When Walsh ran for Congress in 1996, his opponent was 23-term, 87-year-old Rep. Sidney Yates. Walsh, just 36 at the time, wanted to make Yates' age an issue. He did this in a particularly obnoxious way: By fake-throwing Yates a birthday party. "I don't want to be mean-spirited," Walsh told the Chicago Tribune on November 1, 1996. "When we put on the 87th birthday party for him, that was hard to do. I didn't enjoy it." Walsh claimed Yates never visited his home district, so he offered a $1,000 bounty to the first person who spotted the congressman. Yates' doorman quickly claimed the prize. "It killed us, but we had to give the reward to doorman (James Hardy)," Walsh told the Tribune on October 26, 1996.
In 1998, running for the state house meant less publicity. Walsh did manage to get a few headlines by renting a school bus to highlight the incumbent's vote in favor of bill that would spread funding of public schools more evenly across the state, the Tribune reported on August 13, 1998.
Brave Thoughts: "You've got yourself a socially liberal Republican," Walsh said, clapping a voter on the back, according to the Tribune's story from November 1, 1996. That was a different time, back when Walsh was "a supporter of abortion rights, gay rights, and the Brady Law and against prayer in public schools," the Chicago Sun-Times reported on October 26, 1996. A time when a candidate might say, "I think I'm the kind of Republican who can win because I'm open and tolerant. I'm not some right-wing conservative," as Walsh told the Chicago Tribune on September 26, 1996.
Times change. By May of 2011, Walsh was a Tea Party favorite. He told Slate's Dave Wiegel that Obama only got elected because he's black. Voters "were in love with him because they thought he was a good liberal guy and they were in love with him because he pushed that magical button: a black man who was articulate, liberal, the whole white guilt, all of that."
Clever Quips: On Republicans who voted against the House Republicans' budget plan: "I just wanna hit them. Politely. A nice, soft elbow to the guts. Come on, what are you thinking?" Walsh told Slate's Dave Wiegel in 2011. There are many more!
- "Don’t blame banks, and don’t blame the marketplace for the mess we’re in right now! I am tired of hearing that crap!" Walsh yelled at constituents in November 2011.
- "I made the mistake of doing this on an empty stomach and with a little too much coffee... I downed a couple quick cups which was probably a mistake," Walsh said a couple days later to explain the outburst.
- "How idiotic is this president?" Walsh said in September 2011.
- "If I’m a hobbit, Sen. McCain, you’re a troll," he told Chicago magazine, saying McCain had insulted the Tea Party.
- "If it takes moats and alligators to secure our borders to get you to be serious – I’m game," Walsh wrote in a letter to President Obama about immigration.
- "Keep cutting, baby. I know you're going to take some hot hits, but you're doing this for the bigger picture." Walsh claimed his constituents were telling him in February 2011.
- "President Obama is not Israel's friend," Walsh wrote in a May 2011 op-ed for The Daily Caller.
Success rate: It depends on how you measure it. On the count of "getting famous," Walsh's success rate is high. Walsh had made more appearances on TV than any other member of Congress elected in 2010, according to Weigel. He admitted he was really good at getting on TV but not so good at legislating:
"We all have strengths and weaknesses... We are all better at certain things than others. I still am someone who doesn't understand the way the legislative process works. I do, but I don't. I can't find my way around the Capitol. I have a hard time with protocol."
But when it comes to "staying in Congress," Walsh isn't doing so well. "FWIW, Joe Walsh had only slimmest chance of winning his redistricted seat before his attack on Duckworth. It's now closer to zero," ABC News' Amy Walter tweeted Tuesday.