Jay Bookman: Georgia GOP puts Herschel Walker in bad position

The nomination of Herschel Walker to be U.S. Senator was an act of cynical disrespect, not just to the important office that he seeks, but also to Walker’s legacy and to Herschel Walker the person.

In sports terms, a coach who cares about his players will put them in a situation where they are most likely to succeed, where their gifts will shine and their weaknesses will be hidden. The Georgia GOP claims to care about Walker, but it has done the opposite to him. They’ve put him in a position for which he is vastly unsuited by temperament, experience, knowledge and intellect. They’ve left him exposed, not protected, and in more ways than one.

But sure, I get why they did it.  They did it in part because Donald Trump told them to do it, and in part because Walker is a Georgia folk hero, the larger-than-life, home-grown athlete who in 1980 led the Bulldogs to a national football championship.  He has a mythical aura about him that time has for the most part burnished, not eroded, at least until this Senate campaign has forced a closer look.

Partisan politics is a tough field; people say exceedingly cruel things about each other all the time, like it’s all an accepted part of the game. But personally, I can’t watch Walker struggle to perform the most basic tasks of a candidate without feeling a deep sympathy and sadness for him. He really should not be there.

Listening to him attempt to address a relatively simple political issue, trying to follow his chain of thought, is like listening to a broken-up phone call from someone with one bar of cell service. You recognize a phrase here and a phrase there, but the parts that are garbled or missing make it impossible to know what the message is intended to be.

Walker has claimed businesses that don’t exist, degrees he didn’t earn, charity work that looks more like shady self-dealing, law-enforcement experience that never occurred.  He has proposed, in all apparent sincerity, a series of bizarre ideas including a claim that he has found a solution to COVID, a dry mist, that no one else can comprehend. There are enough such examples to make you question his grasp on reality.

Walker and his proponents cite his business record as an indication of what to expect from him in politics, and though there are some parallels, they do not lead to where Walker would like. The usual explanation for someone who ends up as Walker has in a series of unethical business arrangements is that it reflects his character. The more charitable and maybe more accurate interpretation is that he has been suckered into a string of unethical business arrangements over the years by people wanting to trade on his name.

Part of Walker’s appeal is his genuine desire to be liked, to please people, and in business as in politics, that has made him vulnerable.

Last week, The Daily Beast published a brutal insider narrative of Walker’s campaign, citing internal e-mails, text messages and eyewitness accounts, that drove home in embarrassing detail how ill-suited he is to be a candidate for high public office.

According to that account:

“Emails and texts show advisers discussing how they don’t trust Walker — both to tell the truth to them and to handle campaign events properly — and harboring concerns that he isn’t mentally fit for the job.

“He spouts falsehoods ‘like he’s breathing,’ this adviser said — so much so that his own campaign stopped believing him long ago.

“‘He’s lied so much that we don’t know what’s true,’ the person said, adding that aides have ‘zero’ trust in the candidate. Three people interviewed for this article independently called him a ‘pathological liar.’”

Leaks of that sort from a campaign staff aren’t unknown, but typically they come after the battle has been fought and lost, as the various players point fingers at each other to shift blame. It’s odd, and telling, to hear leaks of such detail and such venom, coming from inside a campaign that is still four months from Election Day and still doing OK in the polls.

Alarmed by the trajectory, the GOP establishment in Washington is rushing a fresh batch of advisers and consultants to Georgia on a rescue mission. But their problem isn’t the staff or the message, it’s the candidate. They set Herschel up to fail, and it’s painful to watch.


Jay Bookman reporting via Georgia Recorder.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: [email protected]. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

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