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Opinion As Herschel Walker’s son erupts, the GOP has only itself to blame

Herschel Walker, GOP nominee for the Senate in Georgia. (Akili-Casundria Ramsess/AP)

If Herschel Walker loses the Senate race in Georgia — which now looks more likely than it did 24 hours ago, given the extraordinary new revelations rocking his campaign — it will make it much harder for Republicans to win the majority. So let’s put a marker down now: Leading Republicans cannot be permitted to bury their own role in making Walker the nominee.

Unsurprisingly, their active involvement in securing Walker the nomination is deeply entangled with ongoing GOP kowtowing to Donald Trump — and with continued GOP footsie-playing with the pathologies of Trumpism. Republicans are already scrambling to point fingers, but to paraphrase a great old song about regret and loss, this is their own damn fault.

Walker’s campaign is facing “stunning developments” and is “in crisis,” news media accounts say, after the Daily Beast reported that the anti-choice Walker paid for an unnamed former girlfriend’s abortion back in 2009.

Walker has strongly denied the allegation, blaming Democrats and the Fake News media. But the Daily Beast reports having seen the woman’s receipt for the abortion as well as a personal check from Walker reimbursing her for it, and said it confirmed the story with one of her confidantes at the time.

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To top it all off, in a remarkable eruption of anger and pain, Walker’s son Christian tweeted a torrent of criticism of his father. He then posted a video of himself tearing into his father, accusing him of betraying “family values” as an absentee dad who had multiple affairs.

The Republican response is threefold: Some are publicly insisting this is all a big nothingburger, and others are blaming Democrats, while still others privately move to pin the blame of a potential Georgia loss on Christian Walker in ugly and vicious terms.

Cartoon by Michael de Adder: Necessary roughness

And so, if Republicans are going to anonymously blame this young man in advance, let’s note that a meltdown of this colossal scale by Herschel Walker’s campaign was utterly predictable.

Let’s take stock of what was known about Walker long before he won the nomination. Way back in July 2021, the Associated Press reported that Walker’s ex-wife had secured a protective order against him and that relatives had informed her that he’d told them he planned to kill her.

Walker denied to police that he’d made the threats, per the AP, but one relative testified to this under oath, and a judge saw “good cause” to grant the protective order. What’s more, as the AP delicately put it, Walker “alarmed business associates with unpredictable behavior.”

Even one of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) own top lieutenants knew this was serious trouble, tweeting out the AP story and dubbing it “about as comprehensive a takedown as I’ve ever read.”

Anyone who knows how politics works could see this as a clear warning against nominating Walker. But then McConnell ultimately ended up endorsing Walker in the primary anyway.

McConnell’s calculation here is instructive. As Politico reported at the time, McConnell and GOP leaders initially saw Walker’s past as a serious liability but then decided they were impressed by Walker’s fundraising and his television performances.

At the time, McConnell also confidently predicted the midterms would be a referendum on President Biden. And McConnell declared that Walker could unite GOP voters, given that Trump had endorsed Walker as someone with long personal connections to him.

In other words, Republicans saw Walker as a good vessel for a midterm election that would be all about Democrats, not them: Walker could raise money, had high name recognition and could keep Trump voters in the fold. Who cared if his past suggested he probably has no business being anywhere near the Senate, by Republicans’ own previous lights?

Things have changed since then. The death of Roe v. Wade, the easing of inflation and gas prices, and revelations about Trump’s insurrectionism and legal peril have meant these contests aren’t exclusively referendums on Biden and Democratic rule.

Now, amid that shifting political environment, Republicans themselves admit that weak candidates like Walker could be putting their Senate hopes in jeopardy. But if this is so, the cynicism that drove the accommodation with Walker is at least partly to blame.

It’s sometimes said that McConnell is one of the few Republican leaders truly trying to move the party away from Trump. But that’s an overly credulous reading: In reality, McConnell has at key moments sought to harness Trump’s pathologies in highly destructive ways.

For instance, McConnell refused for weeks in 2020 to recognize Biden’s win in a failed effort to keep Trump voters energized for the Georgia runoffs, helping fuel the lies that inspired the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The continued backing of Walker is the latest example of McConnell’s effort to coopt Trumpism.

One of Trump’s innovations has been to convince Republican politicians that no scandal is too damaging to survive, provided they deny at all costs, never apologize, give no quarter whatsoever to accusers and bull-headedly plow through, blaming the whole thing on the Fake News throughout.

In Walker, however, Republicans have been handed a test of this proposition that looks like a whole lot more than they bargained for.