Every voter understands that control of the United States Senate is only fractionally less important than control of the White House. Senate races in purplish states (Ohio, Wisconsin, PA, Georgia) attract an enormous amount of attention and money. And, while there may be a red wave in the House, the Senate is a tougher map for the GOP, Georgia is part of that problem.
The Republican Party looked at Georgia as one of its most obvious opportunities for a desperately needed pick up. Sen. Ralph Warnack won a seat that Gov. Kemp gave to Kelly Loeffler, attempting to stop the growing blue hue of the Atlanta suburbs. Instead, a combination of Stacy Abrams, the Atlanta metro vote, along with just enough suburban blue, Ralph Warnock defeated Loeffler in 2020. The Georgia GOP likely saw 2020 as a one-off (two-off) year, a painful one, but one seat could be brought “home” in 2022. Loeffler inherited a seat up for election in 2022, and Warnock beat her out for the last two years. The full six-year term will be decided this fall.
Without regard to “who” entered the GOP race, it is almost certain that every single Georgian power player wanted Trump to keep his mouth shut (to the greatest extent possible). In the eyes of Republicans everywhere, Trump had already delivered two Democratic senators from Georgia, and they damn sure didn’t want to see it happen again.
It is happening again, in large part due to Trump.
Enter Hershel Walker, University of Georgia football royalty, but – until recently, a non-political star. The lack of a political past didn’t hurt him, indeed it likely helped him. Trump probably saw a little of himself Walker, who worked for Trump when Trump owned the New Jersey Generals of the hapless USFL. Walker is a frighteningly intense MAGA man, a renegade going against all expectations, a little like Trump. The GOP covets any opportunity to increase its perceived diversity. Thus, Walker, backed by a Trump endorsement, seemed like an auto-win for the GOP, in both the primary and possibly even the general election, pitting two black men against each other, easing GOP concerns about any race issues.
Too many had hazy memories of Walker’s extremely problematic past, especially the domestic abuse incidents. He also seemed to have lied about whether he ever graduated from UGA. All that baggage will be going up against Sen. Rev. Ralph Warnock, one of the most gentle, eloquent, and thoughtful men in the nation, a deeply spiritual pastor who stood at Martin Luther King’s pulpit, Walker is now seen by many GOP power players as a liability. Some in the state think that Walker’s large early lead may be insurmountable and Walker is DOA in November against a man that even most Republicans will reluctantly confess is a strong but loving soul.
Thus it is that the easy consensus regarding a Walker nomination, one without divisive ads or eye-gouging, is about to end, as many in the state are starting to pour huge amounts of money into one of the challengers. Given that Georgia is a “50% +1 state,” the new desperate plan is to deprive Walker of that 50% in the first primary vote, something made considerably easier by the fact that there are six semi-viable alternatives, none more so than Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
As reported by Politico this morning, the Georgia GOP is starting to talk openly about their possible oncoming disaster:
At a meeting of the Putnam County Republican Party on Monday night, Walker’s leading challenger, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, closed his stump speech with an impassioned appeal for the crowd to do their research on Walker.
“Folks, he can’t win in November,” Black said, raising his voice as he spoke. “The baggage is too heavy. It’ll never happen.”
Yes, well, be that as it may, the other thing that will never happen is Trump keeping his poisonous presence out of Georgia. If one had to pick one state that bore the biggest brunt of Trump’s personal and political toxicity, it would be difficult to find one more devastated than Georgia. Trump is backing a sure loser in David Perdue, up against Gov. Brian Kemp, due solely to the fact that Kemp didn’t somehow just “give” Georgia to Trump. Trump is angry at Georgia Republicans generally and the feeling is somewhat mutual, at least at the top.
Trump’s presence simply compounds the problems of Walker’s own making. As the article quotes:
“Let the Democrats pour $140 million on top of domestic violence and threatening shootouts with police,” [Black] added. “Let that happen. That discussion is going to be had right now. I’m pretty passionate about that.”
Black was referring to police reports documenting Walker’s past run-ins with law enforcement and instances of alleged domestic violence. Walker has publicly discussed his long history with mental illness.
A history of mental illness isn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be a disqualifier for anyone, so long as the underlying problems have been treated with a noted period of recovery, one would say the same of a cancer diagnosis. None of us are physicians, but neither are the kingmakers in the Georgia GOP or Trump, so having made the concession, one can say that Walker is having a tough time passing the eye test regarding whether those problems are all in the rear-view mirror. In fact, his obsession with Trump might well be seen as disturbingly extreme, and – fairly or not, a symptom, one noted in the back of the mind of the all-important swing voters.
As one of the most gentle, compassionate, and deeply intellectual men in the U.S. Senate, Ralph Warnock, sits patiently waiting, the Republicans are now scrambling to get the race into a run-off, one in which they’ll unload on Walker, knowing that he might win anyway directly because of Trump’s presence. It has to be especially painful knowing that if Walker wins anyway, all of the negative ads will linger through to the fall.
Obviously, Stacy Abrams will play a bigger role than Trump in deciding the eventual winner. But the “one-off,” sure thing, that the GOP counted upon looks less sure by the day. They know it, perhaps a bit too late, and are scrambling, knowing Trump can and will drop by – as he did last week, all too often.
Jason Miciak is a political writer, features writer, author, and attorney. He is originally from Canada but grew up in the Pacific Northwest as a dual Canadian-American citizen, which he grows increasingly thankful for every day. He now enjoys life as a single dad, writing from the beaches of the Gulf Coast, getting advice from his beloved daughter and teammate. He is very much the dreamy mystic that cannot add and loves dogs more than most people. He also likes studying cooking, theoretical physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. He likes pizza.
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