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Opinion A Georgia Republican’s takedown of Trump and Herschel Walker nails it

Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan. (AP Photo/John Amis)

The crisis that has engulfed Herschel Walker’s Senate candidacy in Georgia raises a question: After this is all over, what sort of space will be left in the GOP for people like Geoff Duncan?

Duncan, the lieutenant governor of Georgia, has been all over the national media offering withering criticism of Walker. But Duncan has gone even further: He’s exposed the truly corrupt nature of the bargain with Trump that fellow Republicans made in nominating Walker.

“Unfortunately, Republicans looked around to see who Trump supported,” Duncan told CNN Thursday night, adding: “Now we’re paying the price.”

Duncan may endorse Walker in the end, as Republicans in his position often do. But for now, what makes Duncan’s criticism noteworthy is not just that he’s blaming Trump for the Walker disaster, now that Walker is reeling from allegations that he paid for an abortion in 2009 (which he denies). It’s also that Duncan locates the problem in the GOP’s ongoing and active embrace of Trump.

“I think every Republican knew that there was baggage out there,”Duncan said Wednesday, noting this baggage has become “unbearable.” Walker won the nomination, Duncan added, because “he was Donald Trump’s friend.”

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Republicans have insisted all these revelations about Walker — which include his son Christian Walker’s scalding attacks on him as an absentee father and serial philanderer — are all a big nothingburger. Or they’ve blamed Democrats or the Fake News. Some have leaked word that they felt opposing Walker was futile once Trump backed him.

But in Duncan’s diagnosis, the problem is more fundamental: Republicans saw picking the candidate backed by Trump as an opportunity. Walker won because he was “Trump’s friend” and because Republicans “looked around” for Trump’s cues before deciding on their nomination.

The Post’s detailed reconstruction of this backstory confirms the point. When Walker approached Republicans last year about running, they knew of spousal abuse allegations in his past. When they raised such things, he accused them of being Democratic stooges in a way that raised concerns about his stability.

There was even a rumor of an abortion, one GOP opposition researcher told The Post, adding: “Republicans in the state knew about it and decided they didn’t care.” Despite initial concerns, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) backed Walker for the nomination, believing he could command media attention, raise big bucks and unite the party, specifically because of Trump’s backing.

In short, Republicans endorsed him not just because they had no choice but because Trump’s backing carried affirmative attributes that could harness the energy Trump has unleashed. They did this despite being well aware of his obvious unfitness. This is what Duncan is calling out.

It’s no accident that Duncan announced his retirement last year. What many Republicans who are disappearing into private life have in common is exactly this: They’ve stood for the proposition that the GOP must purge itself of Trump and Trumpism, unambiguously and with finality.

They have either voted to impeach Trump or demanded complete and unequivocal renunciation of Trump’s insurrectionism from the party. Or they’ve insisted Republicans must stop making corrupt bargains with him and his chosen candidates, as Duncan has now done.

“The fact that he’s not running for reelection tells you all you need to know about Trump’s influence on the Republican Party,” longtime GOP pollster Whit Ayres told me, noting that Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is expected to resign.

“The kinds of people I’ve worked for my entire career are bailing,” Ayres continued, singling out long-gone Republican senators such as Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both of Tennessee. “They’re saying they don’t want to be involved anymore.”

Of course, Trump doesn’t really represent an aberration from some sort of noble, vanished normalcy within GOP and conservative politics once represented by those figures. Trump was more an exacerbation of ongoing pathologies, as conservatives like Bill Kristol have admitted.

But it’s also true that in some sense, figures like those no longer have a place in the party precisely because Trump is dictating that Republicans must nominate people who are slavishly loyal to him or deeply in thrall to his insurrectionism or (like Walker) simply have his blessing, because he said so.

This doesn’t always work out: Trump couldn’t block Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp from the nomination. But in a way this confirms the point: As Jonathan V. Last notes, when you think about the future of the Republican Party, you absolutely do not think of Kemp, despite his formidable political success, because Kemp does not “belong to Trump.”

By contrast, an empty vessel like Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters is widely regarded as someone who will represent the future of the GOP, should he win. His chief qualification, as Amanda Carpenter explains, is that he’s “wholly and only conversant in the tongue of Trump.”

In coming days, Trump will do a rally for Walker. Rather than put the revelations aside, Trump will likely dwell on them at great length as proof of the persecution Walker has endured and compare it to his own supposed persecution.

Walker is taking on the liberal Fake News and winning, just like I did, Trump will say. This is already working: As one GOP operative argued without irony, Walker is simply following in the footsteps of Trump, who after all survived the “Access Hollywood” scandal, didn’t he?

He did indeed. As figures like Duncan are relegated to private life, before long in GOP politics such revelations will become a badge of honor.

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