We need to talk about Herschel Walker

Trump’s handpicked Georgia Senate candidate has spawned a string of salacious, silly, and downright bizarre headlines.

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 10: College Football Hall of Fame Running Back and current Georgia U.S. Senate ca...
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On paper at least, Herschel Walker has the sort of CV that would leave most people with their jaws on the floor. A Heisman-winning college football superstar, Walker went on to enjoy a celebrated career in the NFL, followed by a stint as a bona fide Olympian, MMA fighter, and presidential appointee — all before winning a resounding 68% of the vote in the primary race (his first!) to become the GOP nominee to run against Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

That’s how it looks on paper. Here in the real world, however, Walker has become one of the biggest GOP liabilities in a campaign season already riddled with unprepared, unqualified, and in many cases underwhelming candidates. While he still very much could unseat the first-term Democrat this coming November (current polling has him well within striking distance), Walker’s unique history of gaffes, lies, and assorted grifts has members of his own party worried about what would, under other circumstances, be a fairly low-lift pickup for the Republican Party.

Even before he officially declared his candidacy, Walker was a celebrity force in conservative politics. In 2014 he backed Republican Jack Kingston for Georgia’s Senate seat (Kingston lost), endorsed Brian Kemp for governor four years later (Kemp won), and then threw his weight behind Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s 2020 re-election campaign (Loeffler lost). But of all Walker’s right-wing pals, none have been so instrumental in his own political ascendency as former President Donald Trump, whom Walker praised at the 2020 Republican National Convention. In turn, Trump served as the driving force behind Walker’s run for Warnock’s seat, effectively leapfrogging the political neophyte into the upper tiers of GOP primary candidates.

Yet even with Trump’s backing, some conservatives worried Walker’s high-profile history of violent spousal abuse and self-destructive episodes — which Walker has attributed to a mental health diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder — coupled with a lack of policy bona fides would mar his nascent campaign.

In fact, that was just the start. Since declaring his candidacy, Walker’s run for Senate has been punctuated by a series of shocking disclosures and revelations, any one of which would have been enough to sink even the most established politicians of the pre-Trump era.

Perhaps the most explosive revelation of Walker’s campaign (at least so far) was his confirmation, despite having once labeled absentee fathers a “major, major problem” for Black households, and despite having once stressed to Trumpworld media figures Diamond and Silk the importance of never abandoning a child, that he himself had a string of undisclosed offspring, including a 10-year-old son whose mother had taken Walker to court to obtain paternity results and parental support. In response, Walker claimed he’d never “denied my children,” but simply “chose not to use them as props to win a political campaign.”

Messy, tabloid-tinged family drama is far from the only scandal plaguing the Walker campaign. Because while that can ostensibly be justified — and dismissed — as private, Walker’s claims of business acumen and entrepreneurial success are a cornerstone to his narrative as a private sector maven trying to bring a real-world understanding to the world of politics. Yet as multiple investigations have revealed, much of that narrative seems to be exaggerated, if not made up entirely. For instance, in 2018 Walker bragged to Fox News that his Renaissance Man Food Services, a poultry company, had around 600 employees; a 2020 government form for a PPP loan listed just eight. As The Daily Beast found, his claims to have founded “the largest minority-owned apparel company” — the Renaissance Manufacturing or Renaissance Hospitality drapery company (the name appears to have been interchangeable) — were similarly fudged, with the company in question seemingly owned and operated as a family enterprise by a business associate whose name appears on all the official filings.

Walker’s alleged exaggerations and falsehoods don’t stop at just his entrepreneurial enterprises, either. In multiple speeches over the course of his career, Walker claimed to have worked in law enforcement, going so far as to heavily insinuate that he’d trained as an FBI agent and been involved in near-death situations involving firearms.

“I worked in law enforcement, so I had a gun,” Walker said in a 2013 speech, describing how he’d nearly committed murder before being inspired to seek mental health treatment. “I put this gun in my holster and I said, ‘I’m gonna kill this dude.’”

The thing is, Walker was never a cop, and according to his own campaign he spent just one week at the FBI training facility in Quantico (“They had an obstacle course and you shoot at targets to protect your partner as you advanced up the course,” he told AP at the time) after retiring from the NFL. Walker seems to have repeatedly lied about his educational history as well, falsely claiming in multiple interviews and speeches that he not only completed college with a degree, but that he’d graduated high school as valedictorian, and was in the top 1% of his university class.

Given his dubious educational provenance, Walker’s equally questionable grasp on science makes a degree of sense. In addition to speculating on sentient air pollution at a recent campaign stop (“Our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air. So when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space”), Walker has at various times been baffled by the existence of apes, argued that science “can’t do” the “conception of a baby,” and, in 2020, waxed philosophical on a seemingly imaginary “dry mist” that he claimed could “kill any COVID on your body.” This spring, he asserted that there were 52 states, and he once proposed a solution to school shootings that involved creating “a department that can look at young men that’s looking at women that’s looking at social media.

The cumulative effect of all this is that Walker’s campaign is reportedly riddled by suspicion and frustration with a candidate even his supporters are starting to think is simply incapable of telling the truth.

“He’s lied so much that we don’t know what’s true,” one campaign staffer told The Daily Beast in the wake of his paternity revelations. Per the Beast, Walker’s aides “have ridiculed his intelligence” and “fear his mood swings and instability,” with the ultimate concern being that the pressure cooker of a high-profile political campaign could lead to a mental health crisis.

Of course, if the political ascendency of Donald Trump taught the country anything, it’s that star power and the right conservative shibboleths can be enough to convince voters to look beyond individual scandals and missteps. The question is, is Walker more of a Trump, or is he just another piece of political attrition in the former president’s quest to establish himself as the ultimate kingmaker for 21st-century American conservatism? Come November, we’ll see.