The Herschel Walker controversy in Georgia shows the need for the Republican Party to be much more careful in selecting and vetting candidates for office, especially because it continues to present itself as the pro-life and family values party.
Herschel Walker became the Republican nominee for Senator from Georgia with the support of national Republican leaders and the endorsement of Donald Trump. No doubt it was widely believed that with his star power from his football days he would attract attention, money, and votes next month. But he has been dogged with credible accusations that he fathered several children out of wedlock with different women and pressured at least one woman into getting an abortion.
Whether these accusations will completely derail Walker’s campaign remains unclear. Polling shows that of Walker’s supporters, only 20% plan to vote for him because hey like him, while 80% will vote for him because he’s a Republican and Warnock isn’t—facts unchanged by Walker’s alleged transgressions. Biden’s lack of popularity in Georgia, as well as voters’ continuing concern with crime, inflation, and illegal immigration may well put Walker over the top anyway.
But Walker’s chances for victory would have been much brighter had these accusations never been made. As Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor, Geoff Duncan has pointed out, Biden is deeply unpopular in Georgia—He has the approval of only 44% and the disapproval of 53%. Senator Warnock has voted with Biden 96% of the time. Obviously, Walker could potentially run a winning campaign emphasizing Warnock’s pro-Biden Senate voting record. The accusations Walker is now facing are, at the least, an unwelcome distraction which weakens his efforts to unseat Warnock.
The Walker case illustrates the special burden under which the Republican Party has labored since 1980, when then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan forged the link between the GOP and the Christian Right by publicly endorsing traditional family values and having the endorsement of traditional values and the rejection of abortion written into the party platform. Since then, the media and the Democrats have held Republican candidates for office to much higher personal standards of conduct. Evidence of abortion, adultery, out of wedlock births, and child abandonment, while potentially damaging to Democrats as well, are more so for Republicans, since Republicans more explicitly preach the virtues of such values, and are therefore more vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy (at least) should they appear to fall short of those values.
Therefore, in the recruitment of candidates for office, party leaders must not allow themselves to become bedazzled by the wealth or star power of potential candidates. They must dig deeper into their backgrounds. They must do background checks to determine whether candidates’ lifestyles comport with the values they say they believe in. They must give money and other forms of assistance to suitable and scandal-free candidates to help them win their elections honestly, and on the issues. To do so will improve the competence of those elected to office and the integrity of the process as well.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.