It isn’t clear whether Trump regards these candidates’ backgrounds as pluses or minuses. But he has consistently defended alleged abusers, including former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, White House aide Rob Porter and now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
These Trump-backed candidates are a far cry from the amiable family man and business tycoon that Glenn Youngkin presented himself as during his successful run for Virginia governor. The Republican did so while managing to keep Trump at arm’s length. His sunny disposition and adept maneuvering convinced voters he would not be a Trump clone. But that approach cannot work if the candidate has serious personal flaws.
A warning to Republicans hoping to win back the Senate majority: Trump’s picks have not been vetted for character. After all, why should Trump apply standards of rectitude he and his rabid cult reject for himself? Playing the “Youngkin playbook” may therefore be near impossible for many Republican candidates.
Herschel Walker is a case in point. The Associated Press reported in October:
The candidate has admitted to violent urges in his 2008 book “Breaking Free,” which disclosed that he had been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. But Walker’s violent behavior continued well after 2001, when he said Christian faith and therapy helped him turn his life around, according to court records obtained by The Associated Press.Walker’s ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, noted his outbursts in their divorce proceedings, telling of “physically abusive and threatening behavior.” In 2005, four years after she had sued for divorce, Grossman returned to court for a protective order after Walker repeatedly voiced a desire and an intent to kill her and her boyfriend.
As late as 2012, Walker allegedly threatened his girlfriend that he “blow her head off” and then commit suicide if she broke up with him.
Only in today’s GOP, with Trump as the cult leader, could such a candidate get the backing of a former president and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who momentarily expressed discomfort with Walker before caving to Trump.
“I do not believe that this type of behavior that Herschel admitted to is going to outweigh the damage and the horror of the abuse of women,” he said, later questioning how the GOP can ask “women or anyone else” to vote for Walker.
Perhaps Black missed the Access Hollywood tape episode. Or that all but two Republicans refused to censure Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) for posting a violent video. Republicans, it seems, have habituated themselves to unseemly characters. In a party of toxic masculinity, an affinity for violence might be a plus for their candidates.
Walker, a novice candidate, has predictably avoided the mainstream media. But that tactic has not helped him avoid devastating criticism for fanning the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen. His evasive campaigning also failed to shield him from blistering condemnation after he failed to immediately condemn the use of a swastika in the Twitter profile of a supporter who was hosting a fundraiser for him. (He was later forced to distance himself from the imagery and the supporter.) This is the GOP’s favored candidate in Georgia’s Senate race running against civil rights advocate Sen. Raphael G. Warnock.
Trump — and McConnell — may figure the MAGA base will back whoever Trump tells them to. That may be, but what if, for example, the Parnell revelations occurred in the general election? What if Walker becomes angry with a reporter or voter after he secures the nomination? General election voters — especially women — may find Trump’s picks repugnant.
Moreover, the damage may not be limited to a few races. Democrats might construct a credible narrative that Republicans’ history of cheerleading for violence or horrible treatment of women make the entire party unfit to govern.
Candidate selection matters in Senate contests. In 2010, Republicans flubbed a chance to win a Senate majority thanks to tea party candidates such as Ken Buck in Colorado, Christine (“I’m not a witch”) O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada (remembered fondly by Democrats for her nonstop gaffes). They pleased the radical GOP base, but they were thumped in the general election. And in 2012, Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s comment about “legitimate rape” helped pad the Democrats’ majority in the Senate.
In the wake of the Parnell debacle and the Gosar censure, might McConnell be having second thoughts about knuckling under to Trump? Complying with the MAGA leader’s direction on candidate selection just might cost McConnell a shot at regaining the Senate — a fitting penalty for the party’s Senate “leader” who never could lead his caucus to definitively reject the instigator of a violent insurrection.