What I didn’t mention, though, was the strange story of his promoting arming small children.
Walsh was among the high-profile U.S. political figures ensnared by Sacha Baron Cohen last year. In one of the most talked-about scenes from Showtime’s “Who Is America?," Walsh and several other conservatives acquiesced to talk about the benefits of teaching children as young as preschoolers how to use guns in what was, unbeknown to them, a fictional program.
“The intensive three-week Kinderguardian course introduces specially selected children from 12 to 4 years old to pistols, rifles, semiautomatics and a rudimentary knowledge of mortars,” Walsh says in the video above. “In less than a month — less than a month — a first-grader can become a first grenade-er.”
Walsh then provides the clincher at the end of the video: “Happy shooting, kids."
Others who appeared to promote the benefits of the Kinderguardians program in the video include former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).
Walsh’s version of events (which tracks with others who were involved) basically goes like this: He was invited to Washington to accept an award for supporting Israel. After plenty of other very normal interactions with Cohen and his team, they had him read a script, on camera, for about half an hour. Buried in a script about noncontroversial Israeli innovations and other things was a brief segment about arming children.
“Right in the middle of it was about 35-40 seconds of a story of a 5-year old in Israel — a Kindergarten boy — who defended his classmates against a terrorist, and Israel has then started a program where they’re training 5- and 6-year-olds on how to use guns to defend themselves,” Walsh told The Fix. “It was specifically about a program that Israel does.”
Asked whether there was any talk about importing the fictitious program to the United States, Walsh said, “Oh, God no.”
“My wife and I didn’t really think about it until we went back to our hotel later that day, and we thought, ‘Oh, that’s kind of funny. That’s kind of a funny program, funny thing to say,’” Walsh said.
He said they investigated starting the next day and found out after about a month that it was Cohen.
Walsh’s explanation makes sense. It’s well understood that Cohen’s shtick is tricking people into saying things by pretending he’s something he’s not. It was the entire premise of his “Da Ali G Show” and the “Borat” films. If Walsh thought he was talking about an Israeli program and not a U.S. program, perhaps that slightly mitigates the fact that he was promoting the idea of arming small children. Were Cohen a journalist, fudging this kind of thing would be unethical.
But Walsh still said this — and on camera, no less. Cohen’s comedy is biting satire often because it shows how people and politicians are willing to say whatever they think they should to please their audience. The idea that politicians like Walsh would endorse such a program sight unseen, whether for the United States or Israel, just because they are being given an award and they love Israel is kind of the point.
And indeed, just before the video is shown, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is shown resisting Cohen’s attempts to get him to join in.
“You want me to say on television that I support 3- and 4-year olds with firearms? Is that what you’re asking me to do?” Gaetz says to Cohen’s character. After Cohen replies in the affirmative, Gaetz says: “Typically members of Congress don’t just hear a story about a program and then indicate whether they support it or not.”
Well, one did, and now he’s challenging the sitting president — which apparently has Cohen quite tickled.
“It says something about our time, that the man who endorsed on Who Is America arming 4-year-olds with machine guns, mortars and grenades, is now pitching himself as the sensible alternative to Trump,” Cohen tweeted late Sunday, “and not a single person can dispute it.” (Many people have questioned whether Walsh is the most effective foil to Trump for Republicans in search of one.)
One of Walsh’s challenges is proving he’s not just a grifter willing to say whatever gets him attention — that he’s truly reformed his ways and feels strongly about taking down Trump. His encounter with Cohen, even as Walsh himself describes it, wouldn’t seem to help in that effort.
Walsh, though, said it was a brief lapse that could happen to anybody.
“All I can say is — because I’ve been in the public eye doing things like this for 8 or 9 years: I got got. Yeah, I got fooled,” Walsh said, stressing this was a lengthy session that included a Q&A. “Should I have been adept enough to pick it up in the moment? Probably. I’m generally pretty good at that. But you know what? I was tired, and every now and then, s--- like this gets by me."
“And once it came out, what the hell are you gonna do? Get angry? … Yes, Sacha Baron Cohen got me. Good on him. But no, Joe Walsh does not believe 5- or 6-year olds should be armed and trained."
And just in case Walsh needed any reminding about this episode, he showed up to shoot his announcement Friday only to find out it was at the same studio in suburban Washington where Cohen duped him. Below is video provided by his campaign: