Joe Walsh, a talk radio host and former congressman, said on Sunday he would challenge Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination.
“We have someone in the White House who we all know is unfit,” Walsh said in a video announcing his candidacy. Walsh said Trump “lies virtually every time he opens his mouth” and places his own interests over those of the country.
Walsh, 57, served one term as a Republican representative from Illinois between 2011 and 2013 before losing his bid for re-election. Initially an enthusiastic supporter of Trump, he has latterly been one of the president’s most vocal conservative critics.
He becomes the second former elected official to make a long-shot attempt to wrest the Republican nomination from Trump, who according to recent polls has an approval rating among Republicans as high as 88%.
The president’s other challenger – Bill Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts and the Libertarian candidate for vice-president in 2016 – has struggled to gain a foothold in his campaign and trails Trump in polls by 72 percentage points, according to an average compiled by RealClearPolitics.
Speaking to ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Walsh said Trump polled so strongly among Republicans because “they don’t have an alternative”.
“Most of my former colleagues up on the Hill,” he said, “they agree privately with everything I’m saying”. Such elected Republicans did not stand up to Trump, he said, because “they’re scared to death”.
Walsh said the 25th amendment, the untested constitutional mechanism for removing a president deemed unfit for office, “should be looked at”.
Sunday’s announcement represented a sharp turnaround for Walsh, who in October 2016 declared on Twitter that “if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket”.
Walsh was elected to the House of Representatives in the “Tea Party wave” midterm elections of November 2010, when rightwing conservatives spearheaded a backlash against Barack Obama’s presidency.
He came under sharp criticism during his time in Congress for saying he could not afford to pay child support to his ex-wife, despite lending $35,000 to his congressional campaign fund.
“I helped create Trump,” Walsh told ABC. “And … that’s not an easy thing to say.”
He continued: “I went to Washington eight years ago, part of the Tea Party class, wanted to shake Washington up.
“I got involved in the battles. And there were plenty of times where I went beyond the policy and the idea differences, and I got personal, and I got hateful. I said some ugly things about President Obama that I regret. And it’s difficult, but I think that helped create Trump. And I feel responsible for that.”
Asked if he had really believed Obama was a Muslim and a traitor, as he claimed, Walsh said: “God no. And I have apologised for that.”
Walsh said his campaign would focus on Iowa and New Hampshire and being “on TV as much as we can”.
“I think this thing … will catch on like wildfire,” he said.