National Republicans Are All In on Herschel Walker

One of Donald Trump’s earliest and most outspoken 2022 projects was talking his old friend and one-time employee Herschel Walker, the Georgia Bulldog football legend, into running for the Georgia Senate seat that will be defended by Democrat Raphael Warnock. It wasn’t necessarily an easy sell for the proto-candidate, who had to give up a business career in Texas (where he has lived for many years) and move back to his native state to run for office for the very first time. But Walker took the plunge on August 25, relatively late in the cycle, and began quietly raising money while avoiding the public-appearance circuit obligatory for candidates who don’t already have 100 percent name identification and the backing of their party’s dominant figure.

Still, there has been some disquiet in Republican circles over Walker’s candidacy. Some of it stems from his lack of any clear profile on the issues that he will have to deal with as a Senate candidate — other than through his history of association with Trump and his recent history of endorsing Republican candidates. But there’s also been some largely off-the-record worrying in both Georgia and in Washington about his bravely admitted history of mental health issues, and more troubling, allegations from his former wife of threats of violence leading to a protective court order.

It’s noteworthy that Walker’s entry into the race did not chase off any of the five announced Republican candidates already in the contest. One of them, Gary Black, the state’s elected agricultural commissioner, has even run a radio ad criticizing Walker for favoring immigration “amnesty” (based on a fairly anodyne Walker comment in 2015 opposing simple deportation of all undocumented immigrants). I’m guessing Trump will have Walker’s back on that issue.

But Georgia rivals aside, there has been some national GOP restiveness about Walker, based on both his troubled personal history and his lack of experience as a candidate. For whatever reason (perhaps his quick start in fundraising helped), that has come to an end with the endorsement of Walker by Mitch McConnell’s second-in-command, John Thune, as Politico has reported:

Thune is the first member of Senate GOP leadership to endorse Walker, and his support is the newest evidence the former football star has tacitly won the party hierarchy’s blessing. While Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to give the Hall of Famer his explicit backing, the Kentucky Republican told POLITICO last month that “there’s every indication he’s going to be a good candidate.”

Now we’ll see if Georgia Republicans line up (quite a few have already endorsed Black) and if some of his putative primary opponents drop out or stick around to see if the former Heisman Trophy winner and Winter Olympics bobsled contestant makes some big mistakes.

Assuming the former running back with mononymic name recognition in Georgia does survive the primary, it sets up a truly remarkable general-election contest against Warnock, who, as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, occupies the pulpit where the Reverends Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. once preached. Warnock is in the U.S. Senate seat once held by such notorious Jim Crow pols as Tom Watson and Herman Talmadge. That two Black men would now compete for this critically important seat — one of the prime 2022 Senate battlegrounds — is remarkable, notwithstanding the fact that one of them, Herschel Walker, is representing the current party of white racial grievance.

New York Magazine