Herschel Walker gave a nice concession speech, talking about the need to believe in America and, yes, the Constitution. But in the end, Georgia’s Senate runoff wasn’t that close, and that has huge implications beyond the defeat of the former football star.
Despite a cliffhanger night in which the lead bounced back and forth, Raphael Warnock won reelection by 100,000 votes, about 3 percentage points, to give the Democrats a 51-seat majority in the Senate.
A generic, boring Republican candidate probably could have won. But Walker could not. He had way too much personal baggage and ran an erratic campaign, perhaps symbolized by his rambling account of a movie in which a werewolf can kill a vampire.
The inescapable verdict is that it was the final setback of the midterm season for Donald Trump, who handpicked Walker to make the Georgia run. There were five battleground contests for control of the Senate–Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire as well as Georgia–and Republicans only had to win two to take control. All five of Trump’s MAGA candidates lost, from celebrities like Dr. Oz to unknowns like retired general Don Bolduc.
Most of them softened their stances on Trump’s stolen election rhetoric, and on abortion rights, but they all lost what looked like winnable races for the GOP.
Gaining a 51st senator–and making Joe Biden the first president since FDR not to lose a Senate seat in a midterm election–means more than reduced reliance on Kamala Harris to break ties.
It takes a nuclear bomb out of Joe Manchin’s hands, since he could single-handedly blow up anything the White House wanted to do. Of course, he can still do that if he and Kyrsten Sinema unite in opposition. Still, with more Democrats on committees than in an evenly divided chamber, it will be easier for the president to push through his nominees.
For all the party’s relief about dodging a red wave, the House will still be controlled by Republicans, if only by a small margin. And that means a whole different climate in Washington, with investigations and subpoenas, and the White House trying to preserve its initiatives of the last two years rather than breaking much new ground.
Walker, who once played for Trump’s team in the ill-fated USFL, nonetheless didn’t want the former president to campaign for him, especially after the controversies over his willingness to terminate parts of the Constitution and his dinner with two anti-Semites. It was two years ago when Trump, appearing for two Republicans in the Georgia runoff, helped Democrats take control of the Senate.
No sooner did Walker lose on Tuesday night than members of his team started trashing him.
Some told Politico that his wife, Julie Blanchard Walker, was obsessed with the unrealistic idea that Herschel could win 50 percent of the black vote, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, thus putting him before the wrong audiences.
A person “close to his campaign” said that “he should have never run for this seat. Herschel had a ton of baggage he was not transparent about, and we were constantly behind the eight ball.”
Warnock, who drew little press scrutiny, deserves credit for running a smart campaign. Walker drew fiercely negative coverage throughout the election as he tried to deny and deflect a flood of allegations.
Two women accused him of pressuring them into getting abortions and paying for them. Others said he threatened physical violence, including one who went on the record and appeared on NBC the day before the runoff. He acknowledged having children he rarely saw, despite his promotion of Black fatherhood. His own son Christian left the campaign and denounced his dad. Walker had acknowledged severe mental health problems in an autobiography.
The result was that Walker basically stopped talking to reporters, keeping them 20 feet away after events so they couldn’t shout questions. But that limited his ability to drive his message.
It was, in the end, another missed opportunity for Republicans, whose high expectations for the midterms were deflated by flawed strategy and flawed candidates.