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If one thing defined Republican political successes in the last decade, it was an almost religious commitment to candidate quality. Candidates needed not only the right background, the right interpersonal skills, and the right political acumen, they needed to have backgrounds and ideas that were acceptable to the voters in their states or districts. At least, that’s the myth.
Like many mythical stories, it’s rooted in the truth and oddly was in force for nearly a decade by the crafty and demanding Mitch McConnell. After a series of disastrous candidates like Todd Akin and Christine O’Donnell led to blown chances to gain the Senate majority, the Kentucky Sauron either selected or destroyed GOP primary candidates who didn’t make the grade.
The catechism of “candidate quality matters” was shattered in 2022. A gaggle of low-quality Republican candidates who combined a lack of political felicity with a mindless commitment to the flaming nonsense of the “stolen elections” lie had their asses handed to them by Democrats who might not have been perfect, but at least they weren’t overtly insane.
As the MAGA cohort has metastasized to consume its host in the Republican Party, this rise of low-quality candidates emerged because there are now two GOP primaries in every race from dogcatcher to U.S. Senate. The first primary has one voter: the defeated and humiliated ex-President. GOP primaries on election day are now largely a formality.
It’s a perverse incentive structure, but at least it’s got an ethos; adopt positions that win over Trump but repel the majority or cross Trump to please the majority and have him kill your campaign in the crib? For GOP candidates in red states and gerrymandered seats, it’s an easy choice. The downside for the party broadly is that truly egregious loonbuckets, whackjobs, and shitbirds won GOP primaries and lost their general elections.
Herschel Walker is just the most spectacular example of the moral and political collapse of the GOP in 2022, and with the Georgia runoff looming, he’s a perfect exemplar of Trump’s pernicious influence. Trump’s a crapulous degenerate and wants that reflected in his candidates. In Georgia, more than anywhere else, he got his wish.
At this point, Walker has become more of a punchline than a politician. With his history of spousal abuse, mental illness, baby-mama drama, and Platinum Medallion Frequent Aborter status at Planned Parenthood of Georgia, Walker would have ordinarily been disqualified at the beginning of the campaign, not the end.
By the way, If you’re curious where most of the opposition research hits on Walker are coming from, it’s from an opposition research effort McConnell paid for back in 2021. When rumors reached McConnell in his lair that Walker was running, he paused his usual necromantic rituals and immediately sought a more electable candidate in the form of David Perdue. Perdue never had a chance.
Despite name ID, and a fairly anodyne reputation, Perdue was insufficiently faithful to the MAGA cause, and by “insufficiently faithful,” I mean he was unwilling to strap on the bomb vest and call for the destruction of Georgia’s governor and Secretary of State in the wake of 2020.
In the end, Walker, like Trump before him, is more revealing as a mirror of what the GOP has become.
Watching the Republican party scramble to save his disastrous clown show campaign in many ways is a more valuable lesson. What’s being tested now are two questions, one of which has a partial answer.
First, how does the Republican party motivate a base that now largely believes that the tools the GOP previously used to win elections are now representative of voter fraud? For a generation, GOP campaign operations built winning strategies around early voting, absentee programs, and what they now call “ballot harvesting.” The old gamble was “win early, break even on election day,” and now it’s “don’t vote early and bet the farm on election day.”
Their faith in proven, winning election tactics -- and in elections more broadly -- has been so profoundly poisoned by the conspiratorial clickbait strategy of the vast horseshit archipelago of MAGA online media outlets that serious GOP consultants are crying in their negronis.
The answer to the next question is coming into view: how bad does a GOP candidate’s record, history, actions, and behavior need to be to disqualify them with Republican voters? For that, Walker was a stark illumination of the MAGA GOP’s total moral collapse. When the first abortion story about Walker came out, the evangelical right -- and if I need to remind you, this is a race in Georgia -- came out their reaction was essentially a shrug. Then the next and the next and the next hit, and their reaction was, again, a shrug.
At least in public, the new standard for MAGA is no standard.
There are some indications Walker’s numbers with the Bannon Line of voters -- the 7-11% of the GOP who aren’t full-MAGA -- are soft. Will that be enough to ensure his deserved defeat? Perhaps. A generic Republican running in a deep-red state where Governor Brian Kemp handily defeated Democratic Party darling Stacy Abrams wouldn’t have a close race.
The fact Walker is so truly terrible as a candidate and as a person is illuminating about his character. That the GOP is still all-in on his campaign tells us everything about theirs.