Ultra MAGA Republican State Representative Jim Walsh has just been chosen as the new Chair of the Washington State Republican Party, according to reporters present at the site of the party central committee’s summer meeting, where a vote was just held to pick a successor to outgoing Chair Caleb Heimlich.
Walsh reportedly had the votes locked up for the job and was widely anticipated to win it. He is a state representative from Washington’s 19th Legislative District, which used to be one of only a few rural districts that sent Democrats to the statehouse before Republicans flipped it over the course of several election cycles.
Walsh’s early years in the Legislature were rocky. He made a bad impression with Democratic and Republican colleagues alike and had to be reprimanded for breaches of decorum on the House floor. NPI alum Caitlin Harrington was one of the few who wrote about Walsh’s conduct; here’s an excerpt from the report she filed for The Cascadia Advocate back in March of 2019:
Walsh’s colleagues have come to expect bombast from him when he speaks from the floor. But on several recent occasions, including last Friday, his angry tirades have become more than a nuisance. They have brought the House’s work to a halt.
Walsh’s repeated inability to comply with the House’s rules has left Speaker Pro Tem John Lovick (who shares presiding duties in the chamber with fellow Speaker Pro Tem Tina Orwall) with no choice but to gavel him out of order and then to call the House into recess when Walsh would not stop yelling over the gavel.
House Republican leadership subsequently sat down with Walsh and emphasized the importance of following the rules and respecting the decorum of the House, and he has since outwardly displayed less anger when giving speeches. However, he has continued to exhibit extremely poor judgment at times, such as when he decided to wear a yellow Star of David to protest public health policies:
Walsh had the star — an infamous symbol Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust — affixed to his shirt during a speech to a conservative group at a church in Lacey, Thurston County, on Saturday. He said it was meant to make a point about vaccine mandates that he opposes.
“It’s an echo from history,” Walsh wrote on a Facebook page about the symbol. “In the current context, we’re all Jews.”
His comparison of a public health vaccination campaign with the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II attracted national attention and criticism.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Northwest chapter called Walsh’s comparisons “a gross misappropriation of history to advance an ignorant political point of ‘freedom.’ It is deeply offensive and discounts the painful history of marginalized communities.”
Walsh’s initial response to these criticisms was dismissive and defensive, but he subsequently backtracked and went on Jason Rantz’s right wing talk show to apologize, knowing he’d be treated sympathetically there.
“This gesture went too far,” Walsh admitted, telling Rantz: “It was inappropriate and offensive. I’m terribly sorry that it happened and that I was a part of it.”
Walsh has a keen interest in data and strategy and is interested in learning from how the Washington State Democratic Party consistently organizes winning campaigns. Since Walsh was first elected, the Republican Party has taken several consecutive baths in statewide, federal, and legislative elections.
During that stretch of time, the party has lost a total of two statewide positions, two U.S. House seats, and a net of eight state House seats and five state Senate seats. There have also been losses for Republicans at the local level — for instance, Democrats flipped the Pierce County Council and increased their majority on the King County Council to seven out of nine seats.
Walsh feels that under his leadership, Republicans can end this losing streak in 2024. “We can win. We will win. We will improve the lives of people in this state,” he said during a speech witnessed by The Standard’s Jerry Cornfield.
In a nod to the reality that the Republican brand is toxic in Washington State, Walsh has vowed to un-nationalize the 2024 elections for important offices like governor, though he has not presented any plan for creating a distinct Washington State Republican Party brand that is any different from the cult-like identity the national party has enthusiastically created for itself.
Walsh seems to think that if the party just offers a more polished pitch, it can win over voters in Washington. But there is no reason to believe that’s going to work.
When NPI does research polling, we often ask voters if there’s anything Republicans could do to earn their votes, and Washington voters consistently tell us that the party would have to fundamentally transform itself before they would ever consider voting for any of its candidates. That means it would have to do more than abandon Trump: the party would have to renounce its extreme beliefs, including its positions on issues like gun safety, reproductive rights, and taxation.
That kind of transformation is definitely not going to happen under Walsh, who is very extreme and surrounded by people who feel similarly. Walsh is notably considered a dear friend by the likes of former initiative promoter Tim Eyman.
If anything, by choosing him as its next Chair, the Washington State Republican Party has just recommitted itself to the extremist trajectory that it’s been on.