Herschel Walker’s Deficits Are Not the Only Cause for...

Herschel Walker’s Deficits Are Not the Only Cause for Concern


A week ago, the Republican Party’s nominee for the United States Senate from Georgia explained his opposition to the Green New Deal. Given the decades of Republican denials, obfuscations, and outright falsehoods on the subject of climate change, it would be difficult for nearly any G.O.P. candidate’s erroneous comments to stand out. It was a challenge Herschel Walker, a former N.F.L. star, was ready to meet. He explained, “Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air, so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we got to clean that back up.”

Fighting climate change, in Walker’s telling, is as productive as trying to sweep sand off the beach. Amid the tide of criticism that his remarks generated, his campaign resorted to a dodge that Donald Trump’s team had often used in response to his most indefensible campaign comments: they were just a joke. If there is a joke being told, though, Walker almost certainly is not in on it. Yet in some polls he currently trails his opponent, the Democratic senator Raphael Warnock, by just a few points, and it seems that, no matter the final outcome, Walker will receive the votes of millions of Georgians this fall.

The tale of how Walker came to be the Republican nominee is a clear example of the warping effect that Trump has had on the Party nationally. Having lost Georgia in the 2020 election, he launched a crusade to invalidate the results there, famously pressing the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” him more than eleven thousand votes—an act that is now the subject of a criminal probe—while he insisted to supporters that the state’s election had been rigged. He did so irrespective of the impact that such claims could have on other Republican candidates, including Georgia’s two incumbent senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who faced runoff elections against their respective Democratic opponents, Warnock and Jon Ossoff. A Trump supporter in Marietta asked Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chair, “Why should we vote in this election when we know it’s already decided?” After Warnock and Ossoff won, Trump, in a fit of internecine score-settling, pushed Perdue, a viable contender to take on Warnock this November (Warnock’s victory was in a special election), to run as a primary challenger to Brian Kemp, the Republican Governor, who had also rejected Trump’s entreaty to throw out the 2020 results. Kemp easily beat Perdue, and Trump’s grievance left an open lane for Walker to pursue the Senate seat.

During three seasons with the University of Georgia Bulldogs, Walker, who is now sixty, recorded more than five thousand rushing yards. In 1982, he won the Heisman Trophy. These are his primary qualifications for representing Georgia in the Senate. He has also cited his work in law enforcement, his graduation from U.G.A. in the top percentile of his class, and his success in running businesses, including one of the largest minority-owned food-service companies in the country. These claims would be impressive, if they were accurate. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that he had never worked in law enforcement, that he did not graduate from college, and that he has exaggerated the size of his various business ventures.) The state G.O.P. had a long list of potential candidates to challenge Warnock. Walker, however, had effusively praised and diligently defended Trump during the 2020 election and after it. Trump looked at the unqualified newcomer, who was prone to rambling disquisitions on subjects he knew little about, and saw in him a winner. Game recognizes game.

Trump’s endorsement helped Walker become the nominee despite a devastating ad from a primary opponent pointing to Walker’s alleged history of domestic violence, including an incident years ago in which he is said to have pointed a firearm at his now ex-wife. (He has said that he does not remember that episode, citing a struggle with dissociative-identity disorder, and has denied accusations from other women.) His personal life has continued to prove complicated. A frequent commentator on the perils of “fatherless” households in Black communities, he has highlighted the role he has played in the life of his twenty-two-year-old son, Christian. In June, though, the Daily Beast reported that Walker was also the father of a ten-year-old son, whom he had not publicly acknowledged, and that the boy’s mother had sued him for child support. Walker then admitted that he had fathered a daughter during his college years, and also that he had another child, a thirteen-year-old son. Hypocrisy has seldom been less of a political liability than it is now, so it’s not particularly shocking that a candidate for high office would rail against men shirking their paternal responsibilities while evidently evading his own. Yet Walker also appears not to have told his campaign staff the truth when he was asked directly how many children he has; an unnamed adviser told the Daily Beast that Walker lies “like he’s breathing.”

Walker has not spoken much on matters of policy, but his statement about air quality was not an outlier. (At the same event, he said that China had created the coronavirus, which he had previously said could be killed by a “dry mist.”) Asked how he would prevent needless gun tragedies such as the Uvalde massacre, he said, “What I like to do is see it and everything and stuff.” In response to a similar query from Fox News, he replied, “What about getting a department that can look at young men, that’s looking at women, that’s looking at social media?”

We have learned the hard way that, in American politics, integrity is optional. We’ve seen the wreckage that unqualified leadership yields. Yet Walker’s deficits are not the only cause for concern here. Warnock and Ossoff were elected on January 5, 2021. The next day, a Trumpist mob laid siege to the United States Capitol. We are not yet beyond that moment. Trump will reportedly announce a 2024 run for the Presidency ahead of this year’s election, when a Walker victory could return control of the Senate to the Republicans. A number of state legislatures have made their systems less amenable to fair elections, and next year the Supreme Court may assist those efforts. No one in the G.O.P. leadership can possibly believe that Walker is fit to hold a Senate seat, but the hope—as dangerous as it is cynical—is that he may be able to win one. And that joke would most certainly be on us. ♦

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