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It appears there are indeed some political benefits to being one of the few Black people Donald Trump happens to like. After months of speculation and the public urging of the former president, Herschel Walker on Tuesday filed paperwork to run for U.S. Senate in Georgia.
The ex-NFL star and Heisman Trophy winner joins a crowded field of Republicans seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in 2022, but given the state of the Republican Party, Walker has much of what he needs in Trump's backing. As University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock explained to The Associated Press, "If he tells them they need to go out and vote for Herschel Walker, that's the strongest endorsement he can possibly get."
Trump teased Walker's Senate bid himself back in June: "He told me he's going to, and I think he will," Trump said during a radio interview with The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show. "He's a great guy. He's a patriot. He's a very loyal person. They love him in Georgia, I'll tell you."
That Trump assumes a famous Black football player is immediate competition for Warnock is both ridiculous and casually racist. Walker may be a willing pawn, but that doesn't make this political stunt any less embarrassing, and favorable to Sen. Warnock's re-election bid.
Although Trump is certainly no political scientist himself, it's hard to ignore the political instincts of a famous huckster that somehow successfully tripped his way to the presidency and arguably nearly toppled American democracy in a single presidential term.
"I think he'd win," Trump declared. "I think it would be very, very hard to beat Herschel."
There are some Republican senators who share that opinion. Sen. Lindsey Graham argued to Politico in late July: "He represents Georgia better than Warnock, he's conservative with people's money, he's fiscally and socially conservative. He's been successful, he's struggled, he's a real person."
Others less personally attached to whatever Trump says at a given moment have expressed concerns, especially given some contentious details from Walker's past. For example, Walker has written about dealing with dissociative identity disorder. That is not to say someone who has struggled with mental illness is incapable of seeking public office, but Walker has been accused by his ex-wife of issuing multiple death threats, and will have to publicly grapple with this violent and erratic behavior, which he has attributed to his disorder. It's unclear if Walker will be able to truly handle that level of scrutiny.
"Some of it's pretty bad, obviously: Physical abuse and pulling a gun on his wife, if that's true," said Republican Sen. John Cornyn. "I want to win that race. And to the extent that he's handicapped by some of these things that would make that unlikely, I'd prefer to have somebody else."
Walker is plagued by other, more recent controversies, too: His present wife is being probed for potentially voting illegally. Additionally, Walker has been questioned about some of the outsized claims regarding his business successes. While Walker has touted that his company employed hundreds of workers and grossed $70 million or more in annual sales, it was later revealed to have reported only eight employees when it applied for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan last year. And in a recent court case, Walker said his company averaged about $1.5 million a year in profit from 2008 to 2017.
Like every celebrity that ventures into politics, Walker says his decision to run is not rooted in vanity or ego but in a profound fear for the country. "Our country is at a crossroads," Walker said in a statement released on Wednesday, "and I can't sit on the sidelines anymore." Walker also declared that "America is the greatest country in the world, but too many politicians in Washington are afraid to say that," and "I have lived the American Dream, but I am concerned it is slipping away for many people." Walker says if he is elected to the U.S. Senate, he will "stand up for conservative values."
But it's unclear what Walker actually believes in beyond political allegiance and presumed obedience to Trump. Of course, this didn't stop Trump's own political ascendency, nor did not knowing a damn thing about being a U.S. senator stop former football coach Tommy Tuberville from becoming one after being anointed by Trump. Still, it's wrong to assume Walker can duplicate those successes easily.
The presumption is that Walker's celebrity, along with Trump's endorsement, will make him appealing to white Republicans, and more significantly, just enough Black Democrats, to oust Warnock in the GOP effort to regain control of the Senate. That sort of thinking might make sense to Trump, but by no means does that make it cogent. After all, this is the man who described majorly Black-populated nations as "shithole countries" and infamously asked Black potential voters in his first presidential race, "What the hell do you have to lose?"
One reason former Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler failed in her campaign against Warnock is that when it comes to political outsiders, it's harder than it looks to pin down a preacher as a villain. That's why Warnock won both an overwhelming share of the Black vote and peeled off some Republican voters while he was at it. Voters didn't fall for Loeffler's scary Black man caricature of Warnock because they are not that gullible.
If Trump thinks all it takes to defeat the first Black man to represent the state of Georgia as a U.S. Senator is to nominate a famous Black guy, he's not setting Republicans up to retake the Senate, but setting them up for failure.