The GOP Is Herschel Walker
A clarifying glimpse into the values of the Party of Trump
There are times, I confess, when I decide to pass on writing another column on how degenerate the Republican Party is. What else is there to say? It’s not as if the entire media class isn’t saying it every hour of every day. And it’s not as if the depravity of the party hasn’t been a longtime hobbyhorse of mine. Unlike most of the Never-Trumper set, I was writing about this derangement on the right in the 1990s. I tore into George W. Bush’s spend, borrow and torture policies. I wrote a book on what I thought conservatism really was in 2006 — and why the GOP was its nemesis. I couldn’t have been clearer about what Palin represented — even as Bill Kristol selected her to be a potential president.
But then you come across the Senate candidacy of one Herschel Walker, and, well, words fail. No magical realist fiction writer could come up with something so sickeningly absurd. Walker is, of course, inextricable from his longtime friend, Donald Trump, who made his campaign possible in March 2021:
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the legendary Herschel Walker ran for the United States Senate in Georgia? He would be unstoppable, just like he was when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, and in the NFL. He is also a GREAT person. Run Herschel, run!
Which is to say: he’s a celebrity and a friend of mine. Enough said. That’s how a cult picks a Senator. And it worked with the incurious, star-struck base voters who gave Walker a 55-point lead over his nearest rival in the primary.
There are a few problems, however.
Walker is, to start with, very dumb. I don’t usually note this quality in a candidate and it doesn’t make him a huge outlier in politics of course. Being brainy, moreover, can be a serious liability for some pols. But seriously: this stupid?
Here is Walker’s grasp of climate change: “Our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move.” Here’s his take on John Lewis: “Senator Lewis was one of the greatest senators that’s ever been, and for African Americans that was absolutely incredible. To throw his name on a bill for voting rights I think is a shame.” On the Inflation Reduction Act: “They continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out. But they’re not. Because a lot of money, it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?” On natural selection: “At one time, science said that man came from apes, did it not? But if that’s true, why are there still apes? Think about it.”
Where do you even start? This man is running for the Senate for one of our major political parties. Not even the House. The Senate. He’s clearly incapable of understanding even a scintilla of what his job would entail, and manifestly incapable of doing it.
Maybe Walker makes up for it in charm and eloquence? Nope. He speaks like someone with brain damage. (As a pro-football alum, it’s amazing that the possibility of CTE has barely been raised, even though he has shown classic symptoms — no impulse control, murderous rage, incoherent speech, and even multiple personalities — for decades.) Just read any transcript of his incoherent rambling.
Is he just a good, honest guy who relates well to people? That can make up for a lot of flaws. But nope. He’s a serial liar. He has bragged that he served in law enforcement (he hasn’t); he said he’d been an agent for the FBI (untrue). He has lied about his business:
Walker claimed his company employed hundreds of people, included a chicken processing division in Arkansas and grossed $70 million to $80 million annually in sales. However, when the company applied for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan last year, it reported just eight employees.
Much more seriously, Walker stalked, harassed and threatened to murder his ex-wife, threats that were enough for a judge to grant her a protective order in 2005. She had divorced him four years earlier, citing “physically abusive and extremely threatening behavior.” At one point, he put a gun to her head and said “I’m going to blow your fucking brains out.” This week, his son, Christian, claimed that he and his mother had to move six times in six months to escape his threats of violence.
Look: everyone’s human; everyone deserves a second chance. But when a man makes the problem of fatherlessness a central part of his campaign, and turns out to be entirely AWOL in the lives of his own four children — from four different mothers, three of whom he only publicly acknowledged after the press discovered them — he beats even Boris Johnson for chutzpah. In the words of his own son this week: “Family values, people? He has four kids, four different women, wasn’t in the house raising one of them. He was out having sex with other women.”
Then the coup de grace: the mother of one of his kids has now said Walker had also paid for an abortion for her. She provided the receipt, the cashed check and a personal card from Herschel. He responded by saying it was a “total lie”, and he had no idea who the mother of one his children was (he had previously identified her to the reporter). Her response? A classic:
He didn’t accept responsibility for the kid we did have together, and now he isn’t accepting responsibility for the one that we didn’t have.
Oof. When asked yesterday if he’d reached out to any of the mothers of his children with all this in the news, he replied: “Why do I need to?” (He also says he hasn’t spoken to his son since the news broke of the three step-siblings.) About the abortion itself, he said this to Hugh Hewitt: “Had that happened, I would have said it, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of there.”
And that’s when your head explodes. A candidate who would make abortion a criminal act without any exceptions — the most draconian regime imaginable — also says that abortion is “nothing to be ashamed of.” A man who says he believes that abortion is murder thinks it’s also no big deal if he paid for one.
And for this he is celebrated by the Christianist right. They speak of absolution when he hasn’t even confessed. They shield him from Satan. Ralph Reed went so far as to say that after the abortion news, “he ‘100 percent’ expected evangelical Christians would stick with Mr. Walker. He even argued that the latest report could lift Republican turnout by rallying social conservatives to defend Mr. Walker.”
I might add another twist: Walker’s race. The party that decries identity politics picked him in part because he’s black in a race against a black incumbent — the first African-American to represent Georgia in the Senate. Clarence Thomas and Alan Keyes were picked for similar reasons. But at least they were smart minds who had more qualifications than merely having been a football star. The use of race here is more egregious, creepy even — a sign to my mind of disrespect for black voters that a man like this was deemed qualified to represent them, or anyone else.
So here we have a celebrity candidate with no political experience, neither eloquent nor honest, who abandoned his kids, threatened to kill his ex-wife, and has serious mental health problems … who may hold the balance of the Senate in his hands. That’s what the GOP now is. And if he actually paid for an abortion, i.e. in the view of sincere evangelicals, paid for the murder of an innocent child? Here’s Dana Loesch’s response:
Does this change anything? Not a damn thing. How many times have I said four very important words? These four words: Winning. Is. A. Virtue. I don’t know if he did it or not. I don’t even care.
It’s rare to see this kind of nihilist consequentialism expressed so nakedly. It’s rare to hear someone publicly say something so deeply hostile to any shred of Christianity. (Christians never believe the ends justify any means. Christianism is defined by that principle.) But nothing matters to the current GOP more than victory, by fair means or foul, by democratic processes or not.
I am not saying that the Democrats are not also corrupted by rank tribalism. At their worst, they are, as I often point out. I am saying that they do not compare with the current GOP in its hollowness and depravity and madness.
Walker shows that there is no principle they will not jettison, no evil they will not excuse, no crime they won’t “whatabout,” and no moron they won’t elect, if it means they gain power. There is degeneracy among many Democrats, sure. But the Republican party is defined by this putrescence. Burn it down.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: a conversation with Frank Bruni about the lessons you learn in suffering; a raft of reader dissents over the Tory implosion; a bunch of stories and insights over the episode with Richard Reeves on struggling men and boys; five notable quotes for the week; 14 links to other Substackers we enjoyed reading this week; a Mental Health Break video of mesmerizing Street Views; a window view from the storm damage in Florida and a serene view from British Columbia; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
A newcomer writes:
I’m a long-time, albeit occasional, reader of the Dish — until today a freeloader (tho’ I seem to remember coughing up to subscribe to your independent blog). Anyhow, I’ve just buckled and subscribed, because your reasonable voice — whether we agree with you or not — is more important than ever.
New On The Dishcast: Frank Bruni
Frank is a longtime writer at the NYT — ranging from White House correspondent to chief restaurant critic to op-ed columnist, and now also a journalism professor at Duke. In his early days at the Detroit Free Press, he was a war correspondent, chief movie critic, and religion writer. We’ve known each other for many years, gay writers of the same generation. His latest book is the bestselling memoir The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found, about aging and optimism after Frank began losing his eyesight.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — on the opportunities that can be found in suffering, and on the wisdom found in cringey cliches. The link also takes you to a bunch of commentary and personal stories from listeners after our episode with Richard Reeves on the struggles of men and boys, as well as more debate on the sexual revolution. As so often, you write more powerfully and from a deeper base of knowledge and experience than I can. This listener gets it:
Awesome job with last week’s podcast page in collecting and organizing all the comments on the Louise Perry interview. I never thought I would come across so many people providing such personal details about their intimate lives, much less that I would learn so much from it. This seems to be a special community of subscribers, which is a testament to the great work that you and Chris do. Cheers!
Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy.
Dissent Of The Week
A reader defends the Republican Party:
You wrote, “The good news is that the Tories are not careening toward the anti-democratic authoritarianism of the GOP.” You must have confused your parties. I don’t see the GOP using the DoJ and FBI to target and persecute their political opponents. Nor is the GOP misappropriating the privileges of office to put on a show trial to smear opponents in an election year, attempting to distract from a mentally compromised president and ruinous policies that are impoverishing Americans like nothing we’ve seen since 2008. I also don’t see the GOP shattering every cultural norm and partnering with Big Tech to silence dissenting voices that cry out in opposition, then queuing up to destroy businesses when they don’t get their way.
You can cite January 6th all you want. Those dipshits and their titular dipshit leader do not represent the GOP, and your characterization of the GOP is unsupportable, without evidence, and diminishes you as a political commentator.
Read my response to that dissent, along with two others, here. As always, please keep the dissents coming: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting more than a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as Putin’s annexations, the fraught political scene in Brazil, and leaf blowers. Below is one example:
If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. Below is a tragic story and remarkable image from one of this week’s participants:
I don’t have a lot to add about Bogotá, but I’d like to thank you for making this an easy one this week. It’s been a rough week for my family because of Hurricane Ian. I don’t live in Fort Myers, and I don’t own property there, so I by no means have suffered anything nearly as bad as the residents there. So on some level it feels selfish to feel the way I do. Nonetheless, Fort Myers Beach was like a second home to me, and my heart aches for all of the people there who have lost everything.
In 1972 my grandmother started taking an RV down to Fort Myers Beach and spending part of the winter there, and did so for over 25 years. She had this little collection of misfits/alcoholics who would gather at her RV every single day at 4:00pm sharp for happy hour, a tradition she carried on for years. We would joke that she lived about 100 feet from the beach but would go days without ever seeing it. We visited her every single Christmas, and even after she passed, we continued the tradition, renting various beach houses over the years as our family grew. I’m 53 years old, and last Christmas was my 50th Christmas in a row spent in Fort Myers Beach.
The last 22 years were spent at a beach house owned by the Red Coconut RV park where my grandmother always stayed, and it was basically the only place my three kids (27, 25 and 19) ever remember for Christmas. It wasn’t much to look at, as it was probably pushing 100 years old, and the Florida weather is not kind to old buildings. Remarkably, it did have some historical significance as it was owned at one time by members of the Koreshan Unity, an end-of-the-world cult that inhabited the area starting at the end of the 19th Century (last picture on this page).
One of the traditions we had was to take a picture of our kids every Christmas morning sitting on the stairs, and we have pictures going back to when my youngest was an infant. But we learned yesterday that last year’s picture will be the last one, as the beach house is completely gone, washed away like so many of the older houses on the island. Here we are last Christmas standing in front of it on Christmas Eve:
We hope to be back when Fort Myers Beach rebuilds, and I suggest you take a visit to the Red Coconut in your Airstream some time, it is probably one of the only beachfront RV parks in the entire country, and you won't find a better beach or a better sunset anywhere.
Finally, this was a literal VFYW that I took in 2006, from the dining room where I would sit and work some of the time during my vacations. It was my desktop background for many years, and got me through a lot of cold and dreary winters:
Thanks for reading.
He follows up with a jaw-dropping find:
A quick update: my mother was actually able to find this picture online, of the beach house floating away during the storm:
She found it on Facebook, but I still have no idea how the picture was taken. I can only guess maybe there was a security camera on a utility pole, because that vantage point was in the middle of the (vacant) campground. Just goes to show you can find *anything* on the internet ...
All the best to anyone affected by the hurricane. See you next Friday.