2022 midterms

Herschel Walker Tells Us: ‘I’m Not That Smart’

Herschel Walker has mostly preferred tightly controlled environments during his Senate campaign. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

In a recent piece on candidate debates, I suggested Georgia Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker might be trying to manage expectations by temporarily resisting debate invitations from his Democratic opponent, Senator Raphael Warnock. Walker has, after all, shown himself to be tongue-tied on more than one occasion. But as this report from the Savannah Morning News shows, the former football great and Donald Trump buddy may be taking the self-deprecation a bit too far:

“I am getting out talking to people and talking to you (referring to the media),” said Walker. “I’m a country boy. I’m not that smart. He’s a preacher. (Warnock) is smart and wears these nice suits. So, he is going to show up and embarrass me at the debate Oct. 14th, and I’m just waiting to show up and I will do my best.”

Walker then turned around and kinda contradicted himself by suggesting Warnock was the one who was reluctant to debate:

When asked about why he declined to debate Warnock initially, he became aggravated and said he had to hunt down Warnock and told him to “put his big man pants on.” 

“He may not even show up for that one,” said Walker. “He has made every excuse not to show up. I begged him until I chased him down and then he decided he was going to show up Oct. 14. 

Walker’s reluctance to debate or even submit to media interviews goes back to his primary campaign, so any sudden claim of his eagerness to slug it out isn’t terribly credible. But the aw-shucks routine is more interesting. I’ve previously observed that part of Walker’s appeal to white Republican voters is that he fits (by no fault of his own) every racist’s stereotype of the ideal Black man. Dating back to his heroic days as the University of Georgia’s biggest star, “Herschel,” as he is universally known in his native state, has always come across as hardworking, God-fearing, self-sacrificing, and quite conservative (even in college, he talked about wanting to become an FBI agent when his football career was over).

But I dunno: “I’m a country boy” conflicts with his claims of a very successful business career (albeit mostly in Texas), and “I’m not that smart” isn’t exactly what swing voters may be looking for in one of their two representatives in the United States Senate. When you add that to the questionable details of Walker’s background (notably, threats of violence against his ex-wife and multiple previously unacknowledged children) that have emerged since he moved back to Georgia to run for office, the candidate’s image as a sort of human Heisman Trophy is beginning to tarnish. To borrow Winston Churchill’s famous quip about Clement Attlee, he is coming across as “a modest man with much to be modest about.” That’s when he isn’t posing as a pugilist (he had a briefly successful career in mixed martial arts not that long ago) ready to knock smarty-pants Warnock right out of the ring. He really does need to get his story straight, though. If the idea is to claim debate victory should he string together two or three sound bites on October 14, he’d better stop pretending Warnock is afraid of him. More likely, the incumbent is raring to go.

Herschel Walker Tells Us: ‘I’m Not That Smart’