Former college and pro football star, longtime Trump buddy, and Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker has always had a heroic image in Georgia, the state he returned to last year before launching his first run for office. After he led the University of Georgia Bulldogs to a national championship in 1981 as a freshman prodigy, he was often depicted in Superman garb. When, in 1982, he paused during an early-morning run to extract a motorist from a wrecked car, no one was surprised. His stoic and unassuming demeanor disarmed white racists without embarrassing Black fans. And his general conservatism (he often spoke of wanting a career in law enforcement after his playing days ended) came across as authentic.
Fans were shocked when Walker published a memoir in 2008 disclosing that he had suffered for many years from a serious mental illness (dissociative identity disorder, sometimes called “multiple personalities”), which, according to his own account, led him to disturbing conduct such as once holding a loaded gun to his wife’s head. But he claimed to have fully recovered via therapy and strong religious faith. When talk first circulated of Trump trying to convince the man who is nearly universally known in Georgia simply as “Herschel” to come home and run for the Senate, it wasn’t hard for journalists to dig up more evidence of Walker’s troubled past, as the AP did last July:
An 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.
When Walker moved back to Georgia and announced a Senate campaign, several Republican candidates already in the field weren’t shy about bringing up his questionable background. In particular, state agriculture commissioner Gary Black warned repeatedly that Walker’s history of violent behavior toward women was “disqualifying” and that highly regarded Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock would beat him in November. Campaigning like the star he is, Walker dodged debates and interviews that might involve tough questions and won his May 24 primary handily without a runoff, giving Trump a signature win on a very bad primary night in Georgia.
As the general election approaches, Warnock and his Democratic allies will have the resources to shine an extremely bright light on the more hidden places in Walker’s life. And the embarrassing revelations just keep coming. Earlier this week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Walker was simply making up a law-enforcement background that he bragged about regularly. Subsequently, the Daily Beast reported a more significant new problem with Walker’s background:
For years, former football star turned Republican senatorial candidate Herschel Walker has expressed an enormous pride and love for his adult son, while taking a principled stand against fatherless households and deadbeat dads—specifically in the Black community …
What Walker hasn’t publicly acknowledged is that he has a second son, who has apparently been estranged from his biological father since his birth a decade ago.
A day later, Daily Beast reported that Walker has another son born out of wedlock, and a daughter, too. While Walker is angrily denouncing the suggestion that all these previously unknown-to-the-public kids are “secret” (he apparently disclosed them to President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition when he appointed to that group), and is taking the tack that these children are being dragged into “gutter politics.” But it’s not a great look for a supposed man of high character who is a critic of irresponsible parenthood.
At this point, on the cusp of what is likely to be a bitter general-election year in Georgia, you have to wonder if the sheer number of disturbing revelations about Walker’s background will act as a corrosive drip, drip, drip, undermining the image of strong character he has enjoyed until very recently. No single allegation about the would-be senator might matter that much, but together they could be a problem for him, particularly if he remains vague and guarded on policy issues and other more impersonal reasons Georgians might vote for him.
The trouble is, when Walker does speak out, it doesn’t always go so well for him. In March, he drew some raised eyebrows for remarks that sought to rebut the theory of evolution with the question: “Why are there still apes?” And more recently, his incoherent response to the Uvalde gun massacre got a lot more attention:
Walker probably won’t be able to dodge the media and his Democratic opponent as we get closer to November. And in Warnock, the often tongue-tied Republican will be facing a debate foe who has put together and delivered Sunday sermons for many years. The incumbent can’t afford to become too sanctimonious about Walker’s misconduct; Warnock went through a messy and contentious divorce not long before he was elected to the Senate, and his ex-wife has subsequently accused him of violating a custody agreement. But if there’s more dirt out there on Walker, it will almost certainly come to light before Election Day. And even “Herschel” has only so much moral capital to spend. He, and Republicans generally, may yet regret his decision to give up a relatively quiet life in Texas and enter the political snake pit.
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