The run-off election between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock has to rank pretty far up in the annals of weirdness. For the Democrats, there was Warnock, who served two years in the Senate after winning a 2020 run-off election; for the GOP, there was Walker, who was evidently once a good football player.
Warnock is educated, highly intelligent and a serious policymaker. He is senior pastor at the church once served by Martin Luther King. Walker wasn’t just in over his head–he is clearly mentally damaged, has absolutely no background in or understanding of policy, and was asked to run by Donald Trump and supported by other Republicans because–as a once-storied football player–he had generated name recognition and considerable good will in football-crazy Georgia. (Where he evidently doesn’t live–his primary residence is in Texas.)
And he’s Black.
Let’s call that cynical racism what it is: Republicans figured that running a Black candidate would make the GOP seem less racist, and maybe even split the Black vote., encouraging some number of Black voters who usually vote Democratic to reward the GOP for nominating a Black candidate. (Black people are interchangeable, right?)
The pathetic reality is that Walker either happily allowed himself to be a GOP puppet or was too dense to realize that his handlers considered him a useful idiot.
A column in USA Today summed up my reaction to this whole bizarre exercise:
So much has been said about Herschel Walker’s gross incompetency as he takes aim at securing a seat in the U.S. Senate. As I looked at the recent nail-biter polling – Walker and incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock are even at 46.4% on Thursday night – my first thought was: How could this race be this close?
Then, I felt enormous shame for this country. A place my family and I, Nigerian immigrants who became naturalized citizens more than 20 years ago, have always viewed as a symbol of true democracy. A country where we proclaim justice and freedom and fight fiercely to uphold those signature markers. A nation fervently striving, still, for common decency….
Much like Trump with the presidency, when Walker threw his hat into the Senate race, people scoffed at the idea. There was no way a man who can barely form a coherent sentence could convince reasonable citizens that he, over a well-respected, educated pastor, was the better choice. And, much like Trump, I strongly doubt, given his rambling speeches and cringe gaffes, that Walker knows what the Constitution is, let alone grasp his duties to protect it. The celebrity-turned-politician based on popularity and name recognition needs to end. Walker is the most dangerous embodiment of this.
Voters who might have been forgiven for not recognizing Walker’s “gross incompetence” when he was first nominated could hardly avoid the ensuing avalanche of news about his obvious lies about his education and business history, the emergence of previously unacknowledged children, several domestic abuse incidents–and most embarrassing of all for an avowedly “pro life” candidate, revelations that he’d paid for at least two former girlfriends’ abortions.
And then there was his disquisition about vampires and werewolves…
During the campaign, Walker became a laughingstock, the butt of late-night jokes and even a Saturday Night Live “cold open.”
And yet, after all of that, 1,719,868 people voted to elevate this man to the august chambers of the U.S. Senate.( I am reasonably certain that very few of those ballots were cast by Black voters, most of whom were appropriately furious at the Republican Party’s transparent effort to suggest that, since he was also Black, Walker was equivalent to the highly qualified Warnock.)
The fact that so many Georgia Republicans went to the polls to cast votes for Walker led Bret Stephens–the New York Times conservative columnist–to concede what most of us know: the GOP he (and I) once belonged to no longer exists. Stephens said:
Just the fact that he managed to make it to a runoff is a sign of how much is wrong with the United States today. A near-majority of voters in Georgia would rather vote for a moral delinquent with no grasp of the issues at hand than someone with whom they merely disagree.
The thing is, the people who voted for Walker don’t “merely disagree” with Warnock (or Biden or the Democrats). Most would be hard pressed to address substantive policy differences at all. Like the rural Indiana voters who automatically vote for anyone with an R next to his name, they see “woke” Americans as an existential threat. If combatting that threat required them to vote for a turnip, they would.(Arguably, they did…)
This is where the culture wars have gotten us.