With Herschel Walker, the Stupidity Is the Point
Herschel Walker has repeatedly proven himself to be stupid. Herschel Walker’s voters aren’t necessarily stupid. That’s too easy.
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Georgia Republicans aren’t stupid. But they see safety in stupid politicians. The stupidity of Herschel Walker isn’t a problem for them. It’s a feature. And writing off Georgia Republicans as country idiots is a kind of smug, lazy thinking that oversimplifies a complicated political problem, not just in Georgia but across the country.
Herschel Walker was not nominated to govern. He was not nominated to bargain. He was not nominated to formulate policy. He was not nominated to exercise judgment. He was nominated to mash the R button whenever a vote comes up, no matter what.
“It could be Daffy Duck for all I care,” one such voter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at a Walker rally in Baxley, Ga. “Just get the Democrats out of Washington.”
Electing Walker is like replacing that check-out clerk with an automated self-scanner.
A smart man certainly wouldn’t have held up a fake badge during a debate after being accused of pretending to be a police officer. Rather than own up to the mistake, Walker started doing interviews with news reporters while wearing the badge. The number of children Walker was publicly willing to acknowledge were his has grown twice over the course of the campaign, surprising his own campaign staff with the revelations. Walker’s response to the revelations has been to argue that the children he doesn’t see aren’t campaign props, and please ignore the one who is shouting from the high hilltops about having to move six times in six months as his mother evaded Walker’s abuse.
Walker has argued for a national ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest in interviews as late as August. He denied that he ever said he held a position that extreme, in his first debate with Warnock, but the record of his comments is crystal clear. “I believe in life,” Walker said at a forum in August. “And I said, you know, if anyone wants to have an exception, I said, ‘Not in my book,’” Walker said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry. I feel bad for anyone that’s a victim of any kind of crime.’ I do. I feel like that. That is terrible and that’s horrible, but we deal with that as it comes.”
He’s plainly a pro-life candidate either way.
Two women have come forward to say that Walker pressured them into getting abortions. One, the mother of one of Walker’s (known) children, had a check signed by Walker and a receipt from the abortion clinic. Normally, this would fall into the category of career-ending political scandals. But Walker’s stupidity is an asset. Wisdom might prevent mistakes, but it also generates the kind of self-reflection that creates a conscience, and that’s a problem.
On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp earned roughly 200,000 more votes than Herschel Walker, out of about four million cast. Sen. Raphael Warnock earned about 140,000 more than Stacey Abrams. That means that only about 1 in 20 voters saw the trainwreck that Walker presented – a history of mental illness, violence against women, plain lies about his charitable work with veterans and his business dealings, an absolutist stand on abortion and his connection to Donald Trump – and bailed. Only about two-thirds of those voters who walked away from Walker were actually willing to cross the aisle and vote for Warnock.
If you want a clearer example of bipartisanship’s death, well… you’re not going to find it.
An introspective candidate with Walker’s skeletons would never have run in the first place. But an introspective candidate wouldn’t have had Walker’s skeletons. This may seem counter-intuitive, but for a lot of Georgians, these kinds of mistakes solidify the view among Georgia’s right that Walker must have never thought he would go into politics and hasn’t lived the sterile careerist lifestyle of the political elite … which is the best qualification they know for higher office.
So rather than slink into a corner and collapse after the abortion stories, Walker simply denied everything and threatened to sue The Daily Beast for its reporting on the abortions he allegedly paid for. (So far, he hasn’t followed through on the threat.) He has continued to campaign on an unapologetically pro-life platform.
Wednesday, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America announced it would back Walker with $1 million in spending on the runoff.
A senator who stops to consider the personal or political consequences of his actions might vote for bills that don’t “own the libs.” For many Republican voters, this alone is enough reason to vote for Walker.
For example, Georgia did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The state contributes extra money into the national treasury for medical care that it does not receive, for no real reason other than keeping doctors away from poor people. Hospitals are closing across the state, mostly in communities with poor white residents, though the most significant recent closure was of a major Level 1 trauma center in downtown Atlanta.
The policy is profoundly stupid. It also hurts more Black people than white people in Georgia, so many Republicans support it. A smart politician would be looking for a policy workaround that brings that money to Georgia. But Republicans don’t want a smart politician. They want Walker.
Before you start feeling superior about your choices, the tribal desire to beat a political enemy is also the fundamental political motivation for most Democrats. Even Raphael Warnock has had issues surface during the campaign which might give voters a pause.
Warnock was arrested in 2002 and briefly accused of obstructing an investigation into child abuse at a summer camp. The charge was dropped once it became clear to a judge that Warnock was trying to prevent children from being questioned by police without parents or a lawyer. Walker’s campaign ran ads showing police body camera footage from a domestic case, where Walker’s ex-wife told cops he ran over her foot after an argument in 2020. Paramedics found no injuries on her.
Warnock’s church, the famed Ebenezer Missionary Baptist of Atlanta, owns a nonprofit which owns Columbia Tower at MLK Village, a senior residential housing complex. Some of its tenants have been served eviction notices for paltry sums in recent years, a point that Walker gleefully made during their debate. Warnock replied that no one had actually been evicted.
As a practical matter, none of these attacks mattered. Democrats voted for Warnock anyway. Politics have become tribal in Georgia.
That means a government that’s more dysfunctional, where there’s no incentive to agree to help people. That’s the whole point.
Tucker Carlson and others on the far right have been steadily reinforcing fears of the “Great Replacement” in the hearts of America’s white middle class. The threat of demographic change – and the concomitant political change – is the heart of this message. Sooner or later, they tell white conservatives, you’re going to be outnumbered. Once that happens, white nationalists argue that white people will become the targets of discrimination (instead of Black people.) They’re already arguing that in Georgia: Steven Miller’s team flooded TV and mailboxes with ads reminiscent of Jesse Helms’ “White Hands” ad with White people need not apply messages on jobs. The less functional and less legitimate that government is when the turnover happens, the easier it will be to fight.
Disabling the government is fundamental to white nationalist politics, and those politics have an audience in Georgia. But they can’t say that directly, because most voters reject that message and don’t like who is delivering it.
To be clear: most white Republicans are not crypto-white nationalists. But virtually all white nationalists will vote Republican, and they form a large-enough bloc within the party to influence primary contests in Georgia.
Ironically, Walker’s ethnicity is an added asset here. It’s harder to describe a Black man as a shill for a white nationalist agenda. Win or lose, it amuses the 4Chan wing of the party to amplify all the things they can’t say aloud in the voice of a Black man.
Usually, that play doesn’t work this well. Vernon Jones, a former CEO for majority-Black DeKalb County turned MAGA provocateur, ran for Congress with Trump’s blessings. He made it to a runoff and was thoroughly trounced.
It didn’t used to be like this. Georgia has produced highly educated, politically savvy, even smart Republican leaders over the years, from Newt Gingrich to David Perdue. The problem for the common Republican voter is that these guys – and they’re usually guys – have also tended to be corrupt. Elites are part of the problem. They know how to save their own skin if the ship is sinking. Georgia’s Republicans have decided it’s better to send in someone who wouldn’t know better.
And given the choice between a crooked brainiac and a simpleton, today’s GOP has made its preference clear.