Herschel Walker may win despite being a national embarrassment

OPINION: The former NFL star—who doesn’t understand how evolution works when he asked, “Why are there still apes?”—could be the next senator from Georgia simply because some voters won’t hold candidates to a reasonable standard of competence.

Herschel Walker
Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Right now, former NFL running back and all-around football legend Herschel Walker—a man who has never served in any political office or performed any public service role (unless you count his Trump-appointed role as co-chair of the Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, and I don’t), has no background in activism and has a history of erratic public and private behavior—is the frontrunner to win a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia this November.

This may come as a surprise to some since the current occupant of the seat he’s running for, Rev. Raphael Warnock, is one of the most charismatic and effective new voices in the Senate chamber. Warnock has taken crucial, consequential votes that delivered billions of relief to Americans in need, helped deliver much-needed funds for infrastructure in his home state and is currently leading the effort to make diabetes medication more affordable for average Americans.

And yet, Herschel Walker has an R next to his name, which means no matter how outrageous his rhetoric is, no matter how problematic his past is, he will capture at least 45 percent of the electorate in Georgia because some voters simply won’t hold candidates to a reasonable standard of competence as long as they align themselves on the same side of the cultural divide.

Walker made headlines this week with some profoundly ignorant statements on evolution. No doubt, in an effort to solidify his reactionary religious bona fides, he asked if the theory of evolution is correct, “Why are there still apes?”

Walker is either truly uninformed about the centuries of data we have on this subject (and for the record, the apes humans evolved from went extinct millions of years ago), or he is cynically exploiting devout voters’ suspicions of it—neither option is a good one. He also isn’t the first and likely won’t be the last high-profile conservative to openly question the science behind evolution. But that’s beside the point. He has either willfully or unintentionally decided to debase himself to win over a very misguided though reliable portion of the electorate—and that is a shame.

Walker, now 60, has been an icon for sports fans of all political stripes for decades. His college football career remains an unparalleled achievement, and his enduring versatility and virility as an athlete—this is a man who has excelled at mixed martial arts, bobsledding and ballet—is truly something to behold. 

But in the last several years he has decided to tarnish that legacy with a nascent career in politics peppered with wildly outrageous and decidedly untrue statements. And he has chosen because of opportunism or perhaps because of an ill-conceived sense of purpose to ally himself with Donald Trump.

It’s curious that Walker would be such a booster of Trump, who he claims to have had a nearly 40-year friendship with. At the 2020 RNC, Walker ignored Trump’s long history of racist statements and actions both before and during his stint in the White House and painted a portrait of the former president as a benevolent benefactor to the African-American community. 

Apparently, Trump made an impromptu decision to join Walker’s family during a vacation they took to Disney World. But on the other hand, Trump is widely believed to have tanked the USFL league, where Walker got his professional start in football back in the 1980s through a combination of his own hubris and mismanagement. 

But like his mentor, Walker chooses to live in his own reality, one where he takes great offense at the idea of anyone saying Trump is a racist and where his purportedly genial personal interactions with the man (he also appeared on a season of Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice) overshadow all the contrary evidence that is there for anyone to see.

Of course, paying fealty to Trump has proven to be an unlikely springboard into big-time politics. The American right has gleefully embraced a rogues gallery of characters—everyone from Kanye West to Vladimir Putin—simply for professing an admiration for Trump and a willingness to be as contemptuous of the American left as they are.

In this 2018 photo, Herschel Walker (left) and then-President Donald Trump (right) talk as they watch participants during the White House Sports and Fitness Day in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images)

Walker, who leads in most early GOP primary polls and has been endorsed not only by Trump but the supposedly more sane Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is the latest beneficiary of the Republican Party’s bizarro version of a big tent. There is no room for much ideological diversity within the tent, but virtually any and all personal defects are within bounds.

And by any standard, Walker has defects for days. He has been candid about suffering from dissociative personality disorder, for which he deserves genuine praise. But he has hardly held himself accountable for numerous allegations of domestic abuse, death threats and stalking directed at women who have been in relationships with him.

During the peak of the COVID crisis, he was hawking a magic “mist” that he claimed would “kill any COVID on your body.” He has grossly exaggerated how many people he’s employed and how much money his businesses have made. As Election 2020 played out, Walker perpetuated some of the most noxious and easily disproved election fraud conspiracy theories. 

Later, he had the gall to claim that the insurrectionists who invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were not actually Trump supporters. And on the campaign trail, he demonstrated how woefully uninformed he was about one of Georgia’s favorite sons, the late civil rights legend, Rep. John Lewis.

Mistakenly calling Lewis a senator, he claimed naming the Voting Rights Advancement Act after him—a man who was literally beaten within an inch of his life fighting for that sacred right— “a shame.”

He claimed that the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act “just doesn’t fit what John Lewis stood for, and I think [Democrats] know that. And I think that it’s sad for them to do this to him.”

What’s really sad is that remarks like that don’t disqualify Walker in the minds of many voters. His buffoonery is either excused or championed.

Meanwhile, Warnock, a political novice himself, has been an exemplary lawmaker in his brief time in the Senate (he was elected to fill out the term of the late Johnny Isakson). He’s been a tireless advocate on behalf of voting rights, and his signature issue is no small potatoes: 1 out of every 4 dollars the U.S. spends on healthcare goes towards caring for people with diabetes. Should he lose re-election, and should Walker replace him, that disparity, like so many others, will likely go unaddressed for at least another two years.

Georgia voters of conscience cannot and should not count on Republican primary voters to save them from the indignity of a Sen. Herschel Walker. After all, this is a party that nominated an accused pedophile in Alabama just five years ago. But they can have their say in the general election, where not just Warnock is on the ballot, but potential vindication for gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and an opportunity to restore good governance in the Peach State.

Voter suppression has and will continue to play a role in that state and every state, to be sure, but nothing is inevitable except for the foot in Herschel Walker’s mouth.

Adam Howard is a senior associate producer for “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” and a producer on the “Full Release with Samantha Bee” podcast. He has written about pop culture, sports and politics for The Daily Beast, Playboy, and NBC News and has recently curated an exhibition of the history of blaxploitation for the Poster House museum in New York City.

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