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Will Donald Trump rescue Herschel Walker?

Donald Trump and Georgia governor candidate Herschel Walker. Credit: Getty

October 5, 2022 - 11:00am

In his American football heyday, no one could keep pace with 60-year-old Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker. Now, however, he is running even or slightly behind incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock — and new revelations that the pro-life candidate paid for a woman to abort have rocked his campaign. As if that weren’t enough, he was also denounced as a liar and hypocrite on social media by his son Christian, an openly gay TikTok influencer who hasn’t campaigned with his father.

As with other Republicans who have courted scandal or controversy, Walker must now see if he can retain enough of the GOP’s large Georgia base to beat Warnock, who already proved his mettle by eking out a victory over a Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler in the 2020-21 special election. Georgia’s demographics are gradually improving for Democrats, but this is still a Right-leaning state where incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp is polling well ahead of Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom he defeated by a far less comfortable margin in 2018. 

Walker’s unorthodox path to the Republican nomination speaks to the power of sports celebrity in an American football-obsessed state. It is also testament to the continuing value of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. After establishing himself as the greatest athlete in Georgia sports history, he signed with the Donald Trump-owned New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, which was engaged in a battle to unseat the NFL as the dominant American football league. 

During his NFL career, he participated in the 1992 Winter Olympics as part of the United States’ bobsleigh team, finishing seventh in a sport he picked up merely for fun. Well into his forties yet still looking like a man half his age, he competed in two mixed martial arts fights in 2010 and 2011 for the Strikeforce promotion — the second-largest organisation in the world at the time — and won both of them. When I interviewed him at the Arnold Classic in 2017, the then-55-year-old still presented an imposing figure.

Unfortunately, the rest of Walker’s life has not been as successful as the superhuman athletic career he attributed exclusively to sprints, bodyweight exercises, and a diet of soup and salad. He had a messy divorce in 2001, during which his ex-wife accused him of pointing a gun at her head and threatening to shoot her; a few years later, he was slapped with a restraining order after stalking his wife’s new boyfriend and barred from owning any guns. 

He would later attribute this erratic behaviour to dissociative identity disorder in which his distinct identities, or “alters,” impelled him to commit violent acts against various people — a condition described in detail in his 2008 autobiography Breaking Free. However, dissociative identity disorder cannot explain away his frequent and easy-to-verify exaggerations or untruths. He has touted his food service company, Renaissance Man Foods, as having 600 employees and $70 million in annual sales, when those numbers are actually 8 employees and approximately $1 million. Although a good student in high school, he has repeatedly claimed to have been his school’s valedictorian, which he was not. He has repeatedly claimed to have graduated in the top 1% of his class from the University of Georgia, though the school has confirmed that their athletic hero did not graduate. He has also claimed to have been an FBI agent and an honorary sheriff’s deputy: no record exists of these feats, either. Even his claims about his rigorous lifelong diet and exercise programme are called into question by a 1981 New York Times Magazine article in which he claimed to subsist on Snickers, hamburgers, and Gatorade

In spite of this, it is possible that neither these deceptions nor the disclosure of the ardently anti-abortion candidate’s involvement in a past abortion will cost him the race. If Herschel Walker does indeed prevail, it will be a testament to the power of Donald Trump’s endorsement — a man whose football team Walker joined in 1983, reunited with on The Celebrity Apprentice in 2009 (Trump fired him), and finally served again as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition in 2018. 

If someone as flawed as Walker can face the voters and win in a state Trump lost to Joe Biden in 2020, then the former president’s chances of returning to office in 2024 look much brighter.

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work


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Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

If Herschel Walker does indeed prevail, it will be a testament to the power of Donald Trump’s endorsement 

No, both are testament to debasement within American politics and culture.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

Let me get this straight: Americans are being asked to vote for a candidate with a self-acknowledged psychiatric illness…
“…dissociative identity disorder in which his distinct identities, or “alters,” impelled him to commit violent acts against various people”
Shouldn’t they be just a little concerned that if voted into office, his condition might manifest itself in some rather awkward ways?

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 year ago

With Hershel and Doctor Öz (not to mention the 2021 (January) Georgia Senate runoffs (in which Democrats gained 2 seats), Trump seems to be the gift that keeps on giving (to Democrats).

I voted for Trump twice (his policies got many things done) but he keeps blowing it with his mouth and antics.

Hershel is near useless as a candidate, but the fact that he would be a reliable Republican vote is the only thing that will keep him above Warnock (who SHOULD have been easy to beat.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago

Most sane Republicans are worried the Trump candidates will lose badly and torpedo their chances of retaking the House and Senate. I’m more worried about the opposite. If candidates as obviously flawed as these can get elected, it will show how deep the resentment has gotten. I’m no ray of sunshine myself, but if the likes of Walker and Oz win, things are worse than even I imagined. Trump will endorse his 2024 candidacy the next day, the establishment will panic and return to their ‘threat to democracy’ propaganda and use Trump’s manifest unfitness to prolong their own rule by painting their opponents as a bunch of looneys, an image which Trump invites and magnifies to nobody’s benefit but his, locking in the current dynamic for at least two more years, and probably more, but with the volume raised a thousand percent as establishment fears of popular revolution drown out all other concerns.