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The baffling defense of Herschel Walker

Republicans have simply decided not to be bothered by a report saying the Senate candidate once paid for an abortion

Herschel Walker, a Republican Senate candidate for Georgia, speaks to reporters this spring. (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg News)

The crispest quote of the modern political era was written in 2018 by a man named Frank Wilhoit. Not the late political scientist Frank Wilhoit, oddly enough, but another Frank Wilhoit, who is a classical music composer in Ohio.

“Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit,” Wilhoit wrote: “There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

You might argue that it’s a needlessly incendiary generalization and broadly speaking, I’d agree. But Lordy, I’m having a hard time coming up with a better explanation for what happened this week with Herschel Walker, the Senate candidate from Georgia.

On Monday evening, the Daily Beast reported that a woman said Walker, who has described himself as antiabortion, paid for an abortion she got in 2009 while they were dating. According to the report, the woman produced a receipt from the abortion clinic, along with a check that Walker made out to her a few days later and a get-well card bearing what appears to be Walker’s distinctive signature. A friend corroborated her account. Walker has called the allegation a “flat-out lie,” saying he’s never asked anyone to get an abortion nor paid for one. Other news outlets, including The Washington Post, have not independently verified the reporting from the Daily Beast.

The public reaction of many Republican figures — whose party has long been stridently antiabortion — was to either not believe the report or to not care.

“Herschel has denied these allegations and … Republicans stand with him,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said.

“It is very important to our Country and to the Great State of Georgia that Herschel Walker wins this election,” former president Donald Trump said in a statement.

“This election is about the future of the country,” said Stephen Law, the president of the Senate Leadership Fund. “Herschel Walker will make things better, Raphael Warnock is making it worse. Anything else is a distraction.”

“I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate,” former NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch said on her radio program, adding that “winning is a virtue.”

It’s nice of them to make the messaging so plain. The personal life of Herschel Walker is less important to some conservatives than Senate Republicans securing their ability to interfere in other people’s personal lives. In addition to Republicans’ aggressive moves to outlaw abortions in states they control, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) last month proposed a national abortion ban, an idea that Walker has indicated he would support.

Abortion bans are terrible. The debates over them are even worse.

Writing this column feels a little gross to me. I try to stay away from making political generalizations, and anyway, there’s no sport in shooting fish in a barrel when they’ve already flopped themselves onto the pavement. But what is happening with Herschel Walker is so nauseating that, oh well, why not? Let’s name it even if we can’t solve it.

If Walker did encourage a girlfriend to have an abortion, that would be fine. Couples are allowed to discuss their procreation preferences and choose when and if to become parents.

If Walker paid for an abortion, that would be fine. In fact, it would be the only redeeming thing about this whole episode. In general, men who contribute to causing a pregnancy should contribute to terminating it, if that’s what their partner decides to do.

If the Daily Beast story is accurate, even the fact that Walker is antiabortion now would be fine. People can and do change their minds. A man who supported a partner’s abortion earlier in life might think and act differently 13 years later if he were once again put in the position of advising a girlfriend — or a wife, or a daughter, or a friend — on whether to seek an abortion and how to pay for it.

There would be a way for such a man to talk, in an honest way, about what changed for him and why. It would involve wrestling plainly with the emotional, spiritual and scientific issues that might explain why something that once felt right to him now feels wrong. Or explaining how, years ago, he found himself in a position he never imagined being in.

But I don’t think most of the people currently doing the blocking and tackling for Herschel Walker want anyone, particularly voters in Georgia, to wrestle with anything. I think they want to send the whole story to a back alley — along with any suggestion that abortion is a personal decision that should ever end with reimbursements and get-well cards — and then congratulate themselves for saving babies.

What’s not fine is if Republicans, in a winning-is-a-virtue strategy, protect themselves with morality exceptions that they would not permit for others, while binding others by morals that they do not apply to themselves. What’s not fine is the idea that morality — and who it binds and who it protects — is dependent on whether someone is wearing a MAGA hat.

It’s the hypocrisy, stupid. It’s the hypocrisy and the idea that to get what they want, some prominent Republicans are happy to either deny any chance that the story could be true, or to defend the idea of Herschel Walker making use of the reproductive freedom that they want to take away from you.

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