The last week of Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign – beset by a report that he paid for a woman he was dating to have an abortion more than a decade ago – has been an utter disaster.
And it’s been made worse by the fact that smart Republican strategists have known for the better part of a year that Walker was a) deeply untested and b) deeply unpredictable as a candidate.
More than a year ago, in response to an Associated Press story detailing Walker’s turbulent past – including reportedly threatening his ex-wife and exaggerating his business successes – Josh Holmes, a longtime confidante to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was blunt in his assessment of the situation.
“This is about as comprehensive a takedown as I’ve ever read,” tweeted Holmes in July 2021. “My lord.”
And while McConnell stayed silent publicly, he was operating behind the scenes to try to maneuver Walker from his prime position in the Georgia Senate primary.
As CNN reported in August 2021:
“McConnell has suggested to allies that former Georgia senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler should take another look at running again, according to three sources familiar with the matter, after their narrow losses in January flipped the Senate to Democratic control.”
Ultimately those efforts went for naught. And by around this time last year, McConnell had given up – endorsing Walker’s bid. “Herschel is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator Warnock, and help us take back the Senate,” McConnell said at the time.
For close observers of McConnell, it was clear then that this was a marriage of convenience – at best.
Walker had already been endorsed by Donald Trump. He was (and is) a celebrity in Georgia due to his football accomplishments. None of the other potential high-profile GOP candidates – like Perdue and Loeffler – ended up running.
McConnell didn’t get to where he is – the longtime leader of Republicans in the Senate – by charging at windmills. He knew that there was no point in standing in Walker’s way because the former football star was going to be the Republican nominee. So, McConnell got on board.
But those initial doubts that led him – and one of his top political consiglieres – to be skeptical of Walker never went away. It was a classic case of, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” in action.
Unfortunately for McConnell and Senate Republicans, what’s played out of late was exactly what they were worried about all those months ago. (CNN has not independently verified the allegation against Walker, who has repeatedly denied that he ever paid for an abortion.)
The Point: It’s not clear McConnell had any choice but to get behind Walker. But when he did that, he knew things could end this way. Badly.