Warnock vs. Walker race could be the death knell for Trumpish candidates

OPINION: The Georgia Senate race is going into a runoff at a moment when there have been few victories for Trump candidates in tossup states.

Raphael Warnock Herschel Walker
Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock debates Republican challenger Herschel Walker. (Photo: Fox 5 Atlanta/YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

This undecided Georgia Senate race that has moved into a Dec. 6 runoff is a microcosm of the national political dichotomy. We have Raphael Warnock, an incumbent senator who’s a reverend with a Ph.D., versus Herschel Walker, an ex-football player who talks like he just suffered a concussion. We have a race that’s been dominated by talk of abortion. We have a battle that will stretch on for another month because modern political combat never ends. We may also have the seeds of the end of Trumpism.

Since the election of Trump, we have seen a rise in candidates shaped in his mold. They’re bold and brash. They don’t subscribe to reality. They don’t care about their lack of readiness or their tenuous hold on the issues. They’re personality-driven and personally approved by Trump. Last night, a few of them won — J.D. Vance won a Senate seat in Ohio, but that race was leaning red. In the less predictable races, the true tossups, so far, not one Republican who Trump endorsed won (some races are still to be determined). That includes Walker. Maybe it was a Trump curse, or maybe it was voters disliking Trumpishness when it’s not accompanied by Trump’s particular style of, uh, performing. Walker hasn’t lost, but he hasn’t won. He’s got four weeks to escape the Trump curse.

Like many other Trumpish candidates, Walker believed that the way to get elected is to pull from the Trump playbook: Be bold, make wild proclamations, reject reality and attack bogeymen. Walker is an anti-intellectual who bumbles and stumbles his way through sentences like English is a new language for him, but he’s a household name in Georgia because of his football stardom, and he’s got an R next to his name, which makes a big difference in the rural South where the Democratic brand is mud.

Abortion has become a central issue in the Walker-Warnock race, less because of political concerns and more because Walker has been accused of paying for them. Like Trump, Walker survived the sort of scandals that used to destroy candidates because, in the age of Trump, scandals are just another bump in the road. Republican voters will remain loyal even if Walker’s actions are in direct conflict with their values in part because they’re conditioned to disbelieve the media.

As one might expect in a race like this, almost all of Warnock’s support comes from the biggest cities in Georgia — he got well over 200,000 votes in Atlanta and also did well in Augusta, Macon and Savannah. Meanwhile, Walker racked up his support in Georgia’s more rural counties, winning areas where winning required 20,000 votes or less. This is not to suggest that rural votes count less, but that this race is similar to so much of modern politics — Democrats find most of their support in big cities while Republicans pull votes from the smaller, sparser surrounding areas. One of the important distinctions is that running a campaign rooted in anti-intellectualism, a lack of rigor on the issues, and a lot of personality would require the sort of audience you’d be more likely to find in a more rural area. Big city voters tend to be much more media savvy and much less skeptical of education, so the candidates themselves must come across in a more intellectual way. 

This race has another month to go, and it looks like it may be one of the last gasps of Trumpism. The Trumpy candidates performed poorly, and the GOP is taking a look inward. Is it possible that it’s a bad idea to have a divisive, controversial ex-president who never won more than 50% of the vote be the party’s leader? Is it possible that focusing more on personality than policy is a bad idea? Trump has emboldened people whose candidacies are not in America’s best interest and people who are not ready for higher office, and voters are noticing. Warnock versus Walker shows us that it’s hard for Trumpy candidates to win. If Walker can’t succeed and we see that Trump failed to accomplish anything, we could be one step closer to the end of the Trumpification of the Republican Party. 

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!