In 2012, Keith Russell Judd, an inmate in federal prison, ran against Barack Obama in the Democratic Party primary. Appearing on only West Virginia’s ballot, he won 41 percent of the vote. That same year, attorney John Wolfe Jr. won 42 percent of the votes in Arkansas’s Democratic primary. This year, Joe Walsh dropped his primary bid against Donald Trump after garnering 1 percent of Iowa’s caucus votes.
Now, to be fair, Judd and Wolfe are perennial screwball candidates who did not, and never will, have a shot at the presidency. Walsh, on the other hand, is a screwball candidate with no shot at the presidency who limited his attempt to 2020, although we don’t know what the future holds. Perhaps he has what it takes to become a perennial candidate. He does have the screwball part down, even if he couldn’t crack 2 percent of the votes.
That isn’t stopping Walsh and his team from getting lots of press, though. The man who once tweeted “Obama is a Muslim. Happy New Year!” and has admittedly said “racist things” got a byline in the Washington Post to declare that the primary showed him the Republican Party is a cult. His former campaign manager is being feted as someone one who can help convince more Republicans to vote for the Democrat candidate. Multiple mainstream outlets covered Walsh’s campaign and its predictable flameout. Meanwhile, normal people across the country said, “Who?”
It’s almost like there’s a reason for those Pew results about media consumption and partisanship, and it definitely involves faux noise. Because while basically no one has heard of Keith Judd or John Wolfe Jr.—names so obscure they must be typed in their entirety so as not to send readers scurrying back to previous paragraphs to figure out who they are—Walsh was treated as though he were a serious candidate. Just as Judd and Wolfe never had a snowball’s chance of seizing the nomination from Obama, Walsh was always destined to be a footnote, even if he didn’t get all weepy about it.
To be fair, he was previously elected to the House from Illinois, a position that gave him opportunity to display his bombast, so he’s got name recognition. But unlike basically everyone else on the internet, the media treated him as a serious, sober person. All it took was for him to decide that Trump is an existential threat. Given that a whole lot of the press agrees with that position, a campaign that couldn’t even make it to South Carolina produces a bevy of search results.
Now, with his campaign over, his penance will likely soon become insufficient and he can go back to being regarded as a racist who failed to make a career out of being a terrible person. But first, he and his team can make the case to voters that they should support whichever Democrat is nominated, the voters can ignore them, and the press can turn its sights on Bill Weld, the next hero to potentially save the Republican Party from itself.
Let’s just hope they’re not surprised when normal people respond with “Who?”