The report that Republican nominee Herschel Walker allegedly paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion in 2009 has thrown Georgia’s ultra-competitive Senate race for a loop. No one knows how this will turn out or how the story will unfold. But one thing is clear from decades of political experience: It won’t faze Republicans.
This conclusion might strike readers as incredible. How can ardent pro-lifers vote for a man who allegedly paid to kill his own unborn child? But this phrasing misstates the question they will likely ask themselves. Here’s a more accurate inquiry: Does this allegation of a long-ago abortion matter more than the fact that Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock is ardently pro-abortion rights?
That yields a completely different answer. Yes, many pro-lifers will be upset and conflicted if they believe the allegation over Walker’s denial. (He has called the accusation a “flat-out lie” and said in a Fox News interview, “I never paid for an abortion. And it’s a lie. And I’m going to continue to fight.”) But they are not likely to abandon him.
Elections are about choices, and those choices are often decidedly imperfect. That has always been true, but the past few years should have driven this point home. The 2016 presidential election featured the two least popular nominees in history, spawning the “Sweet Meteor of Death 2016” campaign for those despairing over the unappealing options.
Similarly, many Democrats voted for Joe Biden on Super Tuesday 2020 primarily to keep Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders from being the party’s nominee. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” has always been a political truism.
The choice between Warnock and Walker isn’t a hard one for Republicans or pro-lifers. Warnock is a solidly progressive Democrat who has largely backed his party’s agenda. That’s disqualifying for any partisan Republican. Warnock also unreservedly supports abortion rights, even reiterating his support for them in responding to Monday’s bombshell report. Walker could be a major disappointment to his voters as a senator, but he couldn’t possibly be as problematic to them as Warnock.
It’s also not as if Warnock has led a sainted life. His ex-wife claimed he ran over her foot in their driveway during a 2020 domestic dispute (which Warnock has denied) and called him a “great actor.” Warnock’s ex-wife also filed earlier this year for changes to their child custody arrangement, alleging that he has left her financially strapped. (Warnock hasn’t commented publicly on the matter, though a spokeswoman insists he is a “devoted father.”) Democrats will likely contend that any Republican use of this dispute is a case of whataboutism. But that just proves the point: In politics, partisans take their candidate’s side when there is a shadow of a doubt.
Walker is hardly the only candidate this cycle trying to live down embarrassing past acts, assuming this report is accurate. It’s uncontested that Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman detained an unarmed Black jogger with a shotgun in 2013. Yet there is no sign that Democrats are abandoning their nominee over an act they for which they would surely lambaste a Republican.
Consider also Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy. Clinton’s lying about having sexual encounters in the White House with an intern less than half his age didn’t send Democrats scurrying for cover. Nor did driving a car off the Chappaquiddick bridge, killing his unmarried female passenger in the process, keep Kennedy from becoming the liberal lion of the Senate.
And, of course, let’s not forget the Republicans’ tortured defenses of the extremely flawed Donald Trump. History is full of political interests warping voters’ perspectives.
Even independents will often discount anonymous allegations of immoral behavior. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was comfortably leading polls in the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election when the Los Angeles Times reported the accounts of six women, all but two anonymous, who said the movie star had groped or sexually touched them without their consent. (At the time, he denied the allegations, but more than a decade later, he apologized for stepping “over the line” with women.) The accusations dominated the last days of the race, but voters were unfazed. Schwarzenegger was elected with nearly half of the vote in a race featuring more than 100 candidates.
We probably have not heard the last word in the Walker contretemps. But it will likely take more — perhaps catching Walker or the anonymous woman in a lie — for it to have a large effect on the outcome. Politics, it seems, is too important these days for questions of character to matter.