We have been reliably informed by Herschel Walker that he is not a brilliant man (“I’m not that smart,” he said recently). Perhaps he learned some jiujitsu principles in his brief career as a mixed-martial-arts fighter in his late 40s. However it happened, Walker has managed to turn an attack line by his opponent Senator Raphael Warnock into an aggressive messaging device of his own in the home stretch of their close and bitterly fought contest in Georgia.
In their sole debate on October 14, Warnock brought up one of the many false claims Walker had made about his past before moving back to Georgia to run for office, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains:
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in June that in at least three speeches before he entered the Senate race, Walker falsely claimed he worked in law enforcement. In one, he said he worked with Cobb County police, and in another he said he was an FBI agent. Walker responded by saying he had an honorary sheriff’s badge from the Cobb County sheriff. He never directly addressed the FBI agent claim.
Warnock raised those falsehoods at their recent debate in Savannah, saying it showed his GOP opponent wasn’t being honest.
“One thing that I haven’t done is I haven’t pretended to be a police officer and I’ve never, ever threatened a shootout with police,” Warnock said.
In response, Walker brandished an honorary deputy badge.
All hell broke loose as a debate moderator repeatedly reproached Walker for breaking an agreed-upon rule banning the use of props, while Walker insisted it wasn’t a prop but a real honorary badge (apparently not understanding that prop could mean absolutely any visual aid — real or fake). Hilarity ensued in progressive circles, with Saturday Night Live spoofing the “fake badge” and mocking Walker’s messed-up syntax (“I am work with many police officers”).
However you interpret the debate moment, however, there’s no question that Walker has turned the “fake badge” into a regular feature on the campaign trail, signifying his solidarity with law enforcement at a time when Republicans everywhere are benefiting from a perceived lack of Democratic credibility on the crime issue, as NBC News reported:
Walker, a Republican, is now showing the badge, one of at least two he has from Georgia sheriffs, in TV interviews. He plans to tout it in a video cut for social media with Johnson County Sheriff Greg Rowland, who gave him the badge. And Walker’s campaign told NBC News that it has ordered 1,000 imitation plastic law enforcement badges that say “I’m with Herschel” as a fundraising tool.
It hopes to hand some of them out at a crime-themed event with law enforcement officers Thursday in Macon if the props arrive in time.
“Herschel Walker has been a friend to law enforcement and has a record of honoring police,” said Gail Gitcho, the Walker campaign strategist who ordered the badges Saturday.
“If Sen. Warnock wants to highlight this, then bring it on,” Gitcho added. “It just gives us a chance to talk about Herschel’s support of law enforcement and law enforcement’s support for him. It’s a great issue for us.”
At the moment, this is the centerpiece of Walker’s campaign.
Lost in all this hoopla is Warnock’s original point: Not only has his rival lied about a real (not honorary) law-enforcement background, but he has had his own brushes with the law — including threats of violence against the police as well as against his ex-wife. He’s not exactly the most credible anti-crime messenger. But conservative sheriffs in the habit of endorsing all candidates with an R next to their names are happy to supply cover.
How this all turns out, of course, depends on how many of Walker’s other issues voters recall and whether any other major lies or examples of strange and irresponsible conduct emerge. Right now, the smart money in this close race is on neither candidate topping 50 percent, which would mean a December 6 runoff. That could leave persuadable voters more time to forget about Walker’s sketchy background — or more time for additional sketchiness to come to light.