INTERVIEW

Joe Walsh's MAGA warning: If Trump is indicted, expect "major violence"

Outspoken Trump critic Joe Walsh tells Salon why the Democratic Party is outmatched in the fight for democracy

Published July 18, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump speaks on May 28, 2022 in Casper, Wyoming. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks on May 28, 2022 in Casper, Wyoming. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

Today's Republican Party is in revolutionary mode. They are escalating their more than 50 years-long campaign to take away the human and civil rights of women, non-whites, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, the poor and others deemed to be the enemy in their "real America."

As the country becomes more racially diverse, younger, forward thinking and pluralistic, the American right wing is attempting to force the country back to the 19th century and the Gilded Age. Such moves are generally unpopular with the American people en masse. The Republican Party and the larger right wing movement dismiss such protests because they reject the basic principle of a true "We the People" democracy and are earnestly working to create a herrenvolk, apartheid, plutocratic, Christian fascist new America that will be ruled by a small number of white men and their allies.

As seen on Jan. 6 with Trump's coup attempt and the terrorist attack on the Capitol by his followers, such political violence will become the norm as the Republican-fascists expand and consolidate their power and target the Democratic Party (and liberals and progressives more generally) as illegitimate.

How have Joe Biden and the Democrats and the so-called "resistance" responded to this assault on American democracy and society? They have been largely uncoordinated, hapless, lacking the urgency of now, and in total failing to rise to the challenge and demands of the crisis.

In so many ways, Biden and the Democrats remain beholden to — and therefore hamstrung by — a type of American politics and its faith in centrism, bipartisanship and institutions that no longer exists in the Age of Trump and ascendant fascism. This means that the Democratic Party's (and the larger pro-democracy's forces) plans and strategies and norms are of little use in this fight. Democrats are also being held back by self-inflicted injuries such as infighting about President Joe Biden's leadership (or lack thereof), horrible messaging and Vichy Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin who consistently sabotage the party's agenda.

Joe Walsh was a Republican congressman and a leading Tea Party conservative who rose to prominence in part by being a very vocal enemy of Barack Obama. With the rise of Trumpism, Walsh, who now hosts the podcast "White Flag with Joe Walsh" (where "he surrenders the urge to fight and strives to find a path to unite, not divide"), has become a bold critic of the Republican Party and larger right wing movement, which he sees as having betrayed American democracy.

In this conversation, Joe Walsh warns that the Democrats are being routed by the Republican-fascists and the larger right-wing movement because they refuse to accept that the United States and the world are in a populist moment of rage and anger at "the elites." Walsh also warns that today's Democrats have no momentum or energy to effectively counter this anger, because unlike the MAGA movement and TrumpWorld they lack a sense of group identity, cohesion and sense of mission and destiny. 

Towards the end of this conversation, Walsh sounds the alarm that Donald Trump's followers cannot be deradicalized, warning that they may become even more violent on a massive scale if their Great Leader is prosecuted for his high crimes on Jan. 6 and the larger coup attempt.

What is the new normal? There are many Americans, especially among the news media and the political elites, who think we can somehow go back home again to some earlier time and place before the Age of Trump.

We are not going to be united and able to put our differences away and generally get along even though we may disagree. That version of home is gone. I don't think we can ever go back there. America is irrevocably divided, and I do not believe that most people understand that yet.

Your conclusion is an obvious one. Why are so many of the American news media and political class in such denial about reality?

They're vested in trying to keep the American people engaged in that fiction of returning to normal. The lie that we can go back to what we were before Trump and be some type of "united" United States of America. The elite political class is invested in that story.

But when you get away from the establishment corporate new media and the political establishment more generally, there are braver voices on both the left and the right who acknowledge how divided our world is now. That this country is divided. We don't agree on fundamental things. The right in this country is now fully radicalized and the left in this country is lost. The elites can't deliver that truth.

The Republicans and larger right wing and neofascist movement are in revolutionary mode. The Democrats hold onto this fiction of bipartisanship and compromise with them. There are many members of the political class and news media who still hold onto that obsolete model. Too many Americans still believe that the Republican Party is "normal." Is there a way to break through these delusions? To clearly explain to the public and the country's elites that the Republicans are a revolutionary destructive force?

I think that message can be conveyed to American voters in the middle and on the left. But I do not believe that the elites and the corporate news media can deliver that message to them. One would think that MSNBC would have me on more often to deliver that message to wake up their audience to the reality of the situation. But then again, they don't want to scare their audience.

My former political party, the Republicans, are now fully anti-democracy.

When I say that during interviews and panel discussions on the mainstream news media most people there look at me and roll their eyes. They refuse to believe it. But when I talk to people on Twitter, for example — or to people on the left — they understand that what I am saying is true. They wish that more Democrats would communicate the same message I am about the Republicans and how dangerous they are.

"Don't give me Kamala Harris. God bless her, but no. Pete Buttigieg? Hell, no."

The Dobbs decision should be a gift for the Democrats in terms of getting momentum against the Republicans. But even there, Biden and the Democrats appear to be hapless, uncoordinated and too late in responding — to a Supreme Court decision that was known months ago. It really is pathetic.

The Democrats can gain an advantage with the Dobbs decision and what it means. But they don't fight. It's like they're afraid to punch. They're afraid to get into the ring. They're afraid to get dirty. Consider this: Joe Biden is too old. If Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis runs in '24, name me one Democrat that can punch DeSantis or Trump in the nose. There are none.

Don't give me Kamala Harris. God bless her, but no. Pete Buttigieg? Hell, no. Republicans have been obsessed for the last 30 to 40 years in fighting the fight at the state and local level. That's where they've been waging war. Democrats have been focusing on the national level and thinking every solution has to come out of Washington, D.C. The Democrats are getting their clocks cleaned at the state and local level because of that obsession.

I detest the Republican Party and the neofascists and the larger white right. They are evil. I use the correct moral language. But I do admire them in a way because they know how to fight and win. The Democrats need to study them.

The only way you defeat a bully is to punch the bully in the nose, literally and figuratively. Democrats don't know how to do that. Every day I talk to people — and not just MAGA people. Many of the people I talk to are what we describe as "low information voters." They are in the middle somewhere and don't consider themselves Republican or Democrat. These are not just white guys. These are white women, black men, black women, Hispanics and Latinos and other groups. Almost to a man and a woman they have told me some variation of the following: Republicans are a**holes, but Democrats are p***ies who don't understand me.

Some of them will tell me, "Joe, I know Trump's a con man and Republicans are f**king a**holes, but Democrats are p***ies who don't understand me."

Most Americans, these low information voters, they have to choose between an a**hole and a p***y, especially a p***y who doesn't understand them, they're going to vote for the a**hole. Democrats just don't understand that.

"They love the fact that Donald Trump wants to be a king."

Donald Trump and his followers have embraced the "King MAGA" moniker as a badge of pride. Trump is fundraising off of it. What does it mean to be "King MAGA" for the followers? Why does it resonate with them?

They love the fact that Donald Trump wants to be a king. They want a political strong man or some other type of tyrant or dictator. Trump's followers desperately want to be part of that type of power. Trump is also perceived by them to be a doer, a winner and a fighter.

Trump's followers feel like Hillary and Obama looked down on people like them. Bill Clinton was the last Democrat who didn't approach these MAGA white working class-type Americans that way. That is a real problem for the Democrats going forward.

Being more specific, what does "MAGA" mean to them?

I'm on a team. It's an identity. MAGA also means that I'm fighting. They tell me that "We're trying to make America great, Joe. You just don't get it yet. You don't understand it, man." The MAGA people feel like they are part of a movement to change this country. They believe in the mission, and they want to change it back to this fantasy of an America from the past that they are in love with, that they idealize. They're on a train that's going somewhere and that's real appealing to them.

That means that every time a liberal or progressive or Democrat, or really anyone outside of their MAGA world, makes fun of them it fires them up. It tells them they're doing something right. Every time a Democrat makes fun of TrumpWorld or Donald Trump or MAGA or calls them deplorables or bigots or rednecks it is a badge of honor to them.

Where is the Democratic Party's train going?

The Democrats don't have a train. We are living in populist moment here in America and around the world. We've been in a populist moment for a while. What does that mean? It just means regular people. Populism is bigger than MAGA. 

These low information voters in the middle will dance with MAGA and they'll hang out with MAGA and they'll get on the MAGA train, because again, the train's going somewhere.

Many of these people were attracted to Bernie Sanders six years ago.

Ultimately, "populist" just means average, regular people — white, Black and brown — who are pissed off at an elite political system that is no longer meeting their needs and seems to be ignoring them. Populist leaders can be good or bad.

Republicans have recognized this populist moment and what have they done? They've offered up populist leaders. Donald Trump. DeSantis is next in line. They are bad populist leaders because they are delivering an ugly, divisive message. Democrats are missing the moment. There are no democratic populous leaders to be found.

Here is how the average low information voter thinks about this: There is someone who is listening to my anger and yeah, they're bad and they are a**holes and sometimes they're bigots and sometimes they divide us, but they're listening to me. But I look over here to the Democrats and I don't see one leader listening to me and taking me seriously about how pissed off and angry I am at the system and how the country is going for people like me.

"The average working class guy doesn't want to hear about wind and solar and renewable energy right now."

Looking at the polling information — and the general trends with the economy and the country's mood more generally — Trump or DeSantis would likely win in a contest against Joe Biden. They may not even have to cheat or otherwise rig the election to do so.

The Democrats are in big trouble. What do regular people care about? The people know that Donald Trump is a con man; he's an a**hole. Republicans are a**holes and other horrible things too. But guess what? They are listening to the anger.

For example, the average working class guy doesn't want to hear about wind and solar and renewable energy right now. The Democrats are on the wrong side of that issue. The Democrats keep taking these extreme left positions and most working class people are not there yet.

Here is a simple and powerful message for the Democrats — and one that they will not use. People are mad when they go to the supermarket. Food is too damn high. People are mad about gas prices. Why don't the Democrats talk about price gouging and come up with a bold initiative and specifically label these huge corporations as being the crooks and profiteers they really are? The American people are being ripped off and Biden and the Democrats need to say that every day as loud as possible.

Even though I disagree with you on the substance of your analysis and conclusion, I absolutely agree with you that that it would be a winning populist message. Here's the Democratic Party's problem. The only reason Joe Biden won is because of Donald Trump. Joe Biden is not capable. But he's the titular leader of the party. He is the leader of the Democrats, and he has to be the one doing the most punching. But he is incapable of doing it. The rest of the Democrats just seem impotent because Biden is their only messenger right now.

The dominant narrative from the professional smart people and the pundits and commentariat is that the Jan. 6 hearings are "shocking" and "surprising" because of what they "revealed" about Trump and his coup cabal's high crimes. Why do they persist with this narrative? The facts about Trump's perfidy and treason and evil have been a matter of public record for years. His presidency was a naked assault on democracy and the rule of law. The coup was announced in public. None of this should be a surprise to an intelligent person who is paying attention. Are the mainstream media types just in denial? Are they pretending?

I tend to believe most of them are not shocked or surprised. They're saying such things for effect and ratings. You are talking about corporate news media. There are things they are going to allow to be said and things that are off limits. The hosts and guests and reporters you are talking about are not dumb people. They're not shocked by Trump and the Republicans and all the bad things they do.

"There are no heroes on the Republican side at all."

Another desperate narrative is this search for Republican heroes. Do you see any Republican heroes here? I don't. Liz Cheney is the most obvious example of a Republican being buoyed by this false hero narrative.

Few people want to talk about the fact that Liz Cheney voted for Trump in 2020, Liz Cheney campaigned for Trump. She supported Trump after he was in office for four years and she knew what he did to the country during that time and his behavior.

There are no heroes on the Republican side at all. The Democrats do not understand how the Republican Party and MAGA works. It is a cult.

Members of a cult line up, they do their duty, they say what needs to be said, and they fight. They don't ask questions. Cult members follow orders. Cults are orderly. Cults can get a lot of things done. That is part of why the Republicans are so effective. The Democrats don't have that same cult gene and programming.

What are your general thoughts about the House Jan. 6 hearings so far?

The House Jan. 6 committee is just retelling the horrible story that we all know. Anybody who's been paying attention since January 6 knows most of what has been "revealed" during these hearings. I don't think these hearings will have any political impact on the midterms. The only political impact of these hearings may be to influence who the Republican candidate in 2024 is and therefore the next president.

None of this is surprising, but the CNNs and MSNBCs and the news media more generally has an incentive to make these Jan. 6 hearings into something really big and earth shattering, which they are not.

"Even Rudy Giuliani knew it was bulls**t. "

Trump is a criminal who led a conspiracy to overthrow an American election. I knew that before January 6. I knew what Trump was doing when he first put out the Big Lie months before the 2020 election. He signaled then he wouldn't accept a loss. He signaled then that he wanted violence and rioting if he lost. And that's what I would hear every day from his supporters building up to Election Day. So no, nothing that's come out in these hearings is surprising.

I will offer one qualifier. To hear it all retold is amazing. I always figured that Mark Meadows and the others, because I know some of these guys, knew that it was all bullshit about the Big Lie and the election being "stolen."

Even Rudy Giuliani knew it was bulls**t. But in the hearings to hear them say there was nothing there, that was still kind of startling. Everyone around Trump knew it was all a lie and yet they let Trump continue to say what he said about the 2020 Election being stolen from him.

None of them are heroes. They knew it was all a lie and what Trump was up to, and not one of them said anything publicly before or after. Mike Pence was privy to a coup before January 6. Pence did not say a world publicly about it. That really makes me angry almost beyond belief.

You know some of the personalities involved. How do these Republicans rationalize keeping their mouths shut about Trump and his coup plot and the attempt to overturn the 2020 Election more generally? What they are now choosing to reveal — under duress — should have been shared and confessed almost two years ago. Again, these are not heroes or virtuous people no matter how much the mainstream news media and political class wants to elevate them to that status.

When people stand for something, they're either loved or hated. Politicians don't want to be loved or hated. They just want to be accepted. They rationalized being quiet and keeping their mouths shut because their job was to stay there and make sure Trump didn't do worse damage. I have heard that explanation privately from my former colleagues in the House for the last five years. They tell me, "I don't say out loud what I feel about Trump because I want to get reelected. I'm afraid of his voters and Joe, by the way, the Democrats are socialists."

Why did John Bolton keep his mouth shut? Partly it was because of his book, but partly is because John Bolton believes that Democrats are socialists, and that Democrats are the enemy. They also tell themselves that Donald Trump is some type of aberration as though that makes it all fine somehow.

When the MAGA people call your radio show, what are they saying about the hearings?

In general, MAGA World is ignoring the hearings. The low information voters who are not part of MAGA World are paying just a tiny bit more attention to it.

To them, the Jan. 6 hearings are just confirming what they suspected, which is that Donald Trump is an a**hole, but you know what? F**k it.

There were people around him that made sure our democracy was OK and that was 17, 18 months ago. Joe, let's move on. That's generally what I hear.

I will tell you though, I've seen a noticeable uptick in the hate that I'm getting from MAGA World in the last three or four weeks since the Jan. 6 hearings began.

There is a lot of anger at these hearings and also a lot of defensiveness about January 6. The MAGA followers are not watching the hearings, but they're hearing about them. Some bad things about Trump are being confirmed that the MAGA people suspected he did, and they don't like having to deal with it. The MAGA followers are getting very mad at people like me and other others who have been telling the truth about Trump and the coup since it happened.

"These 'good Christians' see Donald Trump as a bad f**king man who's going to deliver them to the promised land."

The Republican fascists and the MAGA people and the larger right wing understand power in a way that the Democrats and today's so-called liberals and progressives and the left in America do not. They want to win at any cost. They don't care about truth, justice, "the American way" or even reality because they are part of a political religion. They've convinced themselves that God is on their side. They literally believe such a fantastical thing.

The Republicans and Trumpists — as though there is a difference now — will lie, cheat and steal, which is why all of these so-called "good Christian men and women" embrace Trump. He is the personification of doing bad things to get what he wants. These "good Christians" see Donald Trump as a bad f**king man who's going to deliver them to the promised land.

What do you think happens with Attorney General Merrick Garland and prosecuting Donald Trump?

I still believe that nothing will happen to Trump. Perhaps a few of the people around Trump will get indicted. I do not believe that the DOJ can or will go after Trump. They believe that it is just too difficult and risky to prosecute a former president. There may also be some wiggle room for Trump where his attorneys claim that he is not mentally competent or something of that sort. It would be really hard to convict him.

If you don't convict that evil man, if you indict him and don't convict him, he becomes a god to his followers. Worst case scenario, Trump becomes a god to people outside of MAGA world if the DOJ goes after him and is not successful. Trump may actually end up being more powerful.

If you were called to be an expert witness at Trump's trial for the crimes of Jan. 6, and the coup more generally, what would you tell the court?

I'd detail how Trump had been a criminal his whole life. And he's been a criminal his whole life because he's always gotten away with it. He's never been held accountable. And he won't stop until he's held accountable. I'd testify that Trump is a traitor to this nation. He's an enemy of democracy. There must be a punishment for that. And finally, I'd testify that Trump's greatest legacy is the destruction of truth. And because of that, my former political party is now fully radicalized and fully anti-democracy. Trumpism has metastasized beyond Trump. Trumpism is the denial of truth, the giving up on democracy, the embrace of authoritarianism, and the attempt to kill or destroy your political opponents. That's where today's GOP is. All because of Trump. How do I know this? Because for the past few years, I have spoken with hundreds of GOP base voters every single day. This is what they've told me.

If Donald Trump is prosecuted, he will order his followers to unleash hell upon the country. What percentage of them do you think will listen?

There is a percentage of Trump's followers who would become violent. There would be a major uptick in violence from the right around this country if Donald Trump was indicted. He is their cult leader. They would see it as "the Deep State" going after their leader. There would be major violence.

We are too far down the road. It cannot be turned off. I think we may be irrevocably divided and the ugliest manifestation of that now is a fully radicalized Republican Party base. Most of them will remain radicalized until they die.

We are divided as a country on our basic shared principles and values. The Republicans and the right-wing are radicalized and against democracy. We are balkanized. This is all going to lead to some major widespread violence. I am not optimistic.


By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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