Georgia: The GOP's Land of Trial and Error
The state has been a testing ground for Republican dos and don'ts.
Over the last couple of years, I can’t think of a part of the country that’s been through more nationally-consequential Republican political drama than the state of Georgia. (Well, besides Washington DC anyway.)
It began in November 2020 when Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden narrowly defeated Donald Trump in the traditionally red state, taking home Georgia’s electoral votes and ultimately winning the presidency.
As you may recall, this didn’t sit well with Trump, who spent the next two months loudly (and falsely) insisting that Georgia’s (along with other states’) election system was rigged, and that he had actually won. He set his sights on Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (both Republicans), vilifying them in public and pressuring them in private to do whatever it took to make sure he ended up the victor. (Recorded calls from some of those conversations are currently evidence in a grand jury investigation into whether or not Trump broke state election laws).
To their credit, Kemp and Raffensperger didn’t cave. They weathered the onslaught from their party’s leader (even as irate Trump supporters issued threats against them and their families), held firm to the law, and maintained the integrity of Georgia’s voting system and electoral count.
But that wasn’t the end of the drama. Not by a long-shot.
Georgia’s 2020 election-cycle wasn’t quite over after Trump lost. The closeness of both of the state’s U.S. Senate races spawned runoff elections to be held on January 5, 2021. Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were favored to win, which would have kept the GOP’s Senate majority. But Trump had convinced enough Georgia voters that their state’s election-system was corrupt to suppress Republican turnout in the runoff. That suppression was just enough to hand both Democratic candidates victories, and put the Senate back in the Democrats’ hands, creating an advantageous political landscape for the party. I think it’s safe to say that landscape has been largely responsible for Biden going hard-left with a number of his legislative initiatives over the past two years.
But Trump wasn’t done with Georgia. Earlier this year, as part of what some called his “revenge tour,” the former president inserted himself back into the state’s politics. He backed (and even hand-picked) MAGA candidates with the hope of primarying Kemp, Raffensperger, and other Republican incumbents (who’d stood up to his anti-democratic efforts) out of office. Republican voters in Georgia, however, seemed to have learned a lesson when it came to Trump: stop listening to the guy.
Election-denying candidates were defeated in the primary, and Kemp and Raffensperger are currently polling very well against their Democratic opponents heading into November’s general election.
One crucial GOP candidate, however, is not: former NFL star, Herschel Walker.
Though Walker was endorsed by Trump for a U.S. Senate run against Democrat incumbent Raphael Warnock, Walker’s popularity in the state mostly comes from his days playing college football for the University of Georgia, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1982. He’s a home-state hero, and won his primary by a wide margin because of it.
The problem, as just about everybody knows by now, is that Walker has an extraordinary amount of personal baggage. That baggage includes past domestic abuse charges, a long history of making up outlandish stories about himself, lots of marital infidelity, revelation after revelation of secret children he fathered, and significant mental disorders. He’s been trailing Warnock (albeit narrowly) because of it.
Lots of political observers were predicting more of Walker’s skeletons to come out of the closet as October approached, and out of the closet they came. Last Monday, Walker’s campaign was hit with a bombshell.
The Daily Beast reported allegations, along with compelling evidence, that Walker — an outspoken pro-life and family values advocate — had personally paid for a girlfriend’s abortion. Walker quickly denied the claim, and even threatened to sue The Daily Beast, but Walker’s son Christian (a conservative activist and prior supporter of his father’s campaign) took to social media to not only lend credence to the report, but also call out his father over more of his domestic past.
The son tweeted:
You’re not a ‘family man’ when you left us to bang a bunch of women, threatened to kill us, and had us move over 6 times in 6 months running from your violence. How DARE YOU LIE and act as though you’re some ‘moral, Christian, upright man.’ You’ve lived a life of DESTROYING other peoples lives. How dare you.”
As of the time I’m writing this, Herschel Walker is still denying the report (while confusedly dodging direct questions about the allegations), but the evidence against him is pretty damning, and the implications are so controversial that they’ve spawned yet another higher-profile moral dilemma within the Republican party.
The question has become whether Republican voters should withhold their support from a man who would have easily been deemed unfit for public office a few years ago, especially by pro-life, pro-family, socially-conservative voters (the way Roy Moore was denied). After all, as The Dispatch’s Nick Catoggio argues, “Walker hasn’t been accused of any ol’ oopsie here.”
“By the logic of the pro-life movement, he’s charged with murder for hire,” Catoggio writes. “If a newspaper accused a political candidate of arranging the contract killing of an enemy and offered documentary circumstantial evidence to support it, that candidate would be a nonstarter for voters of both parties—I think.”
And an unborn child, of course, is no one’s enemy.
Quin Hillyer of the Washington Examiner sees things similarly to Catoggio. “A candidate who wants to make abortions illegal for other people should not have paid a woman to abort his own child (and one, at that, with whom he allegedly has another child out of wedlock),” he writes. “Or at least not without having done something absolutely dramatic, at least in private, to show contrition.” He adds, “In sum, Walker has done nothing to show he is ethically, experientially, or temperamentally fit for service in the Senate. For supposedly ‘Christian conservative’ activists to say anything else is repugnant hypocrisy.”
But Catoggio and Hillyer are what one might refer to as traditional, principled conservatives — holdovers from the pre-Trump era. How is MAGA-world viewing this dilemma, in light of the real possibility that the fate of the U.S. Senate majority may well come down to which party takes Georgia’s Senate seat?
We at least have an idea…
“Does this change anything?” popular right-wing radio-host Dana Loesch asked her audience soon after The Daily Beast report. She answered the question herself: "…Not a damn thing. How many times have I said four very important words? These four words: Winning. Is. A. Virtue.” She added, “I don't care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate. If The Daily Beast's story is true, you're telling me Walker used his money to reportedly pay some skank for an abortion, and Warnock wants to use all of our moneys to pay an all bunch of skanks for abortions."
First, some obvious personal observations:
Aborting a “baby eagle” is not an intensification of aborting a baby human, so her phrasing there was just ridiculous.
“Winning” is, in fact, not virtue… unless the person making that claim — in this case Loesch — is also arguing that political battles the right has lost are also virtuous. Was Obamacare virtuous? What about gun control? What about Joe Biden’s presidential win? Did Roe v. Wade amount to almost 50 years of virtue? I’m guessing she’d answer no to all of those.
If Herschel Walker’s mistress was a “skank,” what does that make him? Is her preferred U.S. Senate candidate not also a skank?
But let’s get to her broader argument, which really just amounts to one thing: It’s a binary choice! It’s either Walker or Warnock!
She’s right in that one of those two men will win in November, but the problem — as glaringly illustrated in this particular example — is that the “binary choice” mentality has gone far beyond its traditional framing as a politically pragmatic voting philosophy. It has become a crutch (or perhaps better, a permission slip) for dismissing or rationalizing all kinds of destructive, morally reprehensible behavior.
Three words acknowledge precisely that: I don’t care.
Even if you truly believe that Walker, when compared with Warnock, is the lesser of two evils, you should “care” about what kind of person Walker is. You should “care” about his fitness (or lack thereof) for public office. If you’re a social conservative or simply pro-life, you should “care” if he paid to terminate his unborn child. You should “care” about his domestic abuses, and that he, as his son claims, “threatened to kill” his own family.
But when “winning” is virtuous, and that’s the virtue that matters most, you’re making an argument that no one should “care” about any of it, whether the issue is an aborted child, fitness for office, or even defending the U.S. Constitution against those who would try to overturn U.S. democracy to stay in power. If none of it ultimately matters, none of it is ultimately disqualifying, and all of it will ultimately win your support.
Today, that’s the moral dilemma being struggled with by voters in Georgia. Tomorrow there’ll be another one somewhere else.
But the ongoing question is just how much one is willing to personally compromise for politics? Far too few political hopefuls these days are interested in sparing voters from such quandaries, but a big reason for that has been the display of just how many things voters are willing to overlook, deny, or even defend in the name of their representatives and political tribe.
I guess we’ll see how things play out, in this round, in the Peach State.