He is the second Republican to wage what will be a long-shot challenge to Trump, joining former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.
“I’m running for president,” Walsh announced on ABC’s “This Week.”
“I’m running because [Trump] is unfit, somebody needs to step up and there needs to be an alternative,” he said. “The country is sick of this guy’s tantrum. He’s a child.”
Asked for comment on Walsh’s decision to jump into the race, a spokesman for Trump’s reelection campaign said in a statement, “Whatever.”
Walsh, like Trump, is a prolific tweeter who has garnered a large following through controversial statements made online, as well as through his syndicated radio show. But unlike Trump, Walsh has spent much of the recent past trying to distance himself from bigotry he espoused during his time as a congressman and as a private citizen since 2013.
In an August New York Times op-ed, Walsh called the president “a racial arsonist who encourages bigotry and xenophobia to arouse his base” and tried to reckon with his past as a Trump voter and a successful target of this “arousal.”
“[Trump]’s caused me to change my tone and to reflect upon where I went over the line,” he wrote. Walsh didn’t specify which of his past viewpoints he now regrets.
Walsh entered Congress as a self-described “Tea Party Republican” in 2011, when a wave of staunchly conservative candidates gave Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives.
In the time since, he has found himself at the center of a number of controversies rooted in statements he’s made about former President Barack Obama, Muslims, women and others.
In 2012, for example, Walsh accused Tammy Duckworth, his Democratic challenger at the time, of not being a “true hero” and overemphasizing her service as a war veteran. Duckworth, who now represents the state of Illinois in the U.S. Senate, had both legs amputated after Iraqi insurgents downed her helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.
“What else has she done?” Walsh asked during an interview. “Female, wounded veteran ... ehh.”
That same year, he declared American Muslims an imminent threat to national security, suggesting they’d infiltrated his home state to kill other Americans. He predicted that an attack similar to those that occurred on Sept. 11 was all but guaranteed.
In June 2016, Walsh issued a threat through Twitter against Obama and members of the Black Lives Matter movement, blaming them for a Dallas shooting in which five police officers were killed and six others were injured.
“This is now war,” Walsh wrote. “Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
In addition to parroting some of Trump’s baseless accusations that Obama is secretly a Muslim sent to destroy “real” America, Walsh spent much of 2016 advocating for a Trump presidency and speaking on his behalf on television and radio. He even said he’d take up arms if Trump lost the 2016 election and encouraged his followers to do the same.
Walsh on Sunday said he regrets using “hateful” rhetoric to attack his political opponents.
“There were plenty of times that I went beyond the policy and the idea difference and I got personal and I got hateful,” Walsh told ABC. “I said some ugly things about President Obama that I regret.”
But host George Stephanopoulos continued to grill Walsh over his past remarks toward women and people of color, calling them “textbook racism and sexism.”
“The beauty of what President Trump has done is, George, he’s made me reflect on some of the things I’ve said in the past,” Walsh said, adding that he doesn’t actually believe Obama is a Muslim. “We have a guy in the White House who has never apologized for anything he’s done or said.”
“I helped create Trump,” he continued. “There’s no doubt about that. The personal, ugly politics ― I regret that. And I’m sorry for that.”
Weld, Walsh’s fellow Trump 2020 challenger, suggested Wednesday that Trump should be removed from office via the 25th Amendment, calling him “a clear and present danger” to the U.S.
Asked Sunday if he believes the 25th Amendment should be invoked, Walsh said it should be “looked at.”
“We’ve never had a situation like this,” he told ABC, referring to Trump. “He’s nuts. He’s erratic. He’s cruel. He stokes bigotry. ... The only thing he cares about is Trump. He doesn’t give a damn about America.”
This article has been updated with additional comment from Walsh and comment from Trump’s reelection campaign.