Herschel Walker, the Republican former football star running for a Georgia Senate seat who supports a total ban on abortion, denies he pressured a former girlfriend to have an abortion, which he paid for. He’s almost certainly lying.
The allegations are easy to believe while his rambling, often contradictory denials are not. The Daily Beast, which broke the story, says it can document the anonymous woman’s claim with, among other things, a $700 check from Walker. We’ve already seen the “get well” card—written in Walker’s handwriting, according to his own son.
Given that Walker has so many demons and skeletons in his closet—he’s like a one-man haunted house—it seems a safe bet the story is true. Even Walker’s denials are taking on a bit of an “even if I did it” hue as he leans into how he’s been “redeemed” and so therefore his past actions (which he didn’t do!) shouldn’t count against him.
Now, here’s the complicated part: Does it matter?
The answer is “Yes, no, maybe.”
Let’s start with the “maybe.” The allegations might matter to a very small group of persuadable anti-abortion Republican or undecided independent voters. Walker was already behind in the polls, and it’s hard to see how this “October surprise” helps win any of them. “Abortion for me, but not for thee” has, to put it mildly, a very niche appeal.
But it’s also possible that this late hit on Walker will perversely help rally the GOP base, which has a Pavlovian reflex to defy “the fake news media.” That’s what Ralph Reed, the founder of the Christian Coalition and a former Georgia GOP state chairman, thinks might happen. He compared this revelation to the Access Hollywood tape in which Donald Trump could be heard boasting of his sexual predations of women. Logically, it’s a strange defense given that the Access Hollywood tape wasn’t fake news.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” Reed told the New York Times. He not only expects “100 percent” that evangelical Christians will stay with Walker, but they might turn out in even bigger numbers to own the libs, or whatever.
Most intellectually honest conservative commentators concede the allegations are bad for all the obvious reasons, but this is what you get when you let Trump handpick a rookie celebrity candidate and forgo any serious vetting. Frustratingly for many on the right, an experienced, generic Republican would have won this race in a cakewalk—as Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp looks to be doing, despite Trump’s attacks on him. But the party has stuck with Walker.
The key fact for many Republicans is that control of the Senate is on the line. Better to have a hypocritical and flawed Republican voting their way in a GOP-controlled Senate than the alternative, they figure. “I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles,” right-wing commentator Dana Loesch declared. “I want control of the Senate!” (Another odd comparison: aAbortion foes usually believe that unborn humans morally outrank baby birds.)
So, maybe it will matter electorally, either by dampening Walker’s support in the middle or by boosting turnout from the GOP base—or, for that matter, the Democratic base.
But, no, it doesn’t matter to the GOP party faithful.
What about the yes? Politics is a long game. And there’s simply no avoiding the fact that in the long term this is a self-inflicted wound for the right. If Walker admitted his sins and asked for forgiveness, he might possibly be in better shape politically. I’m more certain that message would help social conservatives.
The claim that abortion foes don’t really care about the unborn and just want to control women is an old one. Embracing Walker despite the allegations gives that claim new power. Sincerity matters. As Nick Catoggio writes, “I believe strongly that sincere pro-life advocacy is more likely to reduce abortion long-term than insincere pro-life legislation will.”
Hypocrisy on abortion is different than other hypocrisies—gun control advocates who have guns, climate change Jeremiahs flying private jets, etc. According to the moral logic Walker wants translated into law, he’s akin to an accomplice to a murder. That makes him—and his glib defenders—poor advocates for the unborn.
It may be easy for the GOP to shrug off these revelations as inconsequential for the November election. The problem for sincere opponents of abortion is that this will make their work a lot harder, for a long time after the midterms.