2022 midterms

Will Herschel Walker’s Troubled Past Keep Him Out of Georgia’s Senate Race?

Herschel Walker campaigning for his old boss and friend Donald Trump in 2020. Photo: John Bazemore/AP/Shutterstock

In his 2008 memoir Breaking Free: My Life With Dissociative Identity Disorder, football legend Herschel Walker disclosed some troubling details of his own conduct while in the grip of a serious mental illness, including an incident in which he put a loaded gun to his wife’s head. According to the book, Walker turned around his condition and his life in 2001 through a combination of behavioral therapy and religion. So when Donald Trump began promoting his old friend and Celebrity Apprentice contestant for a U.S. Senate run in Georgia in 2022, it was immediately understood that Walker’s mental-health history and its byproducts would likely come up. But it seemed his courage and honesty in disclosing this painful side to his life, and his apparent recovery, might counteract any criticism.

Now, with Walker still equivocating about a Senate race and several potential Republican challengers to Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock staying on the sidelines as they await his decision, the Associated Press has published a story that could call into question the premise that Walker’s problems are far in the rear-view window:

[A]n Associated Press review of hundreds of pages of public records tied to Walker’s business ventures and his divorce, including many not previously reported, sheds new light on a turbulent personal history that could dog his Senate bid. The documents detail accusations that Walker repeatedly threatened his ex-wife’s life, exaggerated claims of financial success and alarmed business associates with unpredictable behavior.

The AP rehashed evidence kicking around for a while that Walker’s ex-wife Cindy Grossman had to get a protective court order against him well after their 2002 divorce to deal with what she called “violent and controlling behavior,” mostly stemming from apparent jealousy. “Grossman told the court she got calls during that period from her sister and father, both of whom had been contacted by Walker. He told family members that he would kill her and her new boyfriend, according to Maria Tsettos, Cindy Grossman’s sister.”

Walker denied the allegations, but a judge did issue the order, which also banned the former star from possessing firearms for a while.

The AP also published evidence that Walker’s business dealings have been characterized by exaggerations of their size and successfulness, and some of these allegations are quite recent:

Walker has made outsize claims about his business record. In repeated media interviews, Walker claimed his company employed hundreds of people, included a chicken processing division in Arkansas and grossed $70 million to $80 million annually in sales.

However, when the company applied for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan last year, it reported just eight employees. (It received about $182,000 in COVID-19 aid.)

That Walker would even need a PPP loan might be of concern to some Georgia conservatives. The AP, moreover, reports that just last month “a Texas bank sued Walker and another business partner over an unpaid $200,000 debt secured to help finance a pizza restaurant. According to court filings, Walker personally guaranteed the loan.”

If Walker can adequately answer the questions the AP and other journalists have raised, it might pose little threat to his potential candidacy. He has virtually universal name ID in Georgia thanks to his sensational career at the University of Georgia, when he carried the Bulldogs to their last national championship and then won the Heisman Trophy. Before and after his memoir came out, Walker maintained an image of modesty and understated strength that made him even more popular back home.

But his candidacy was already going to be a heavy lift, since he is a longtime resident of Texas who has never held public office and does not have much of an ideological profile beyond his close association with Trump and his recent habit of endorsing Republican candidates (including the incumbent senator Warnock defeated in 2020, Kelly Loeffler). His hesitancy in taking the necessary steps to prepare for a Senate run has surely been frustrating to his eager friend in Mar-a-Lago, who has publicly said Walker will run.

Might the recurring reports of more recent trouble in Walker’s life dissuade him? It’s hard to say, but Georgia Republicans aren’t going to wait forever for him. Several U.S. House members are said to be eyeing a Senate race if Walker doesn’t get in, and one statewide elected official, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, is already a candidate. Meanwhile Warnock is raising a lot of money: His campaign has over $10 million in cash-on-hand as of July 15.

We may have to see if the AP story stimulates some other revelations, negative or positive, about the man most Georgians simply know as “Herschel” (the way fans knew Elvis Presley as “Elvis”). Politics is a game that can be rougher than football.

Will Troubled Past Keep Walker Out of Georgia Senate Race?