Bookman: Walker’s backers likely prefer DeSantis over Trump on Senate campaign trail

November 17, 2022 1:00 am

Despite his football fame, Walker came in second in last week’s mid-term election, trailing by 35,000 votes behind incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Donald Trump personally hand-selected Herschel Walker to be his candidate for U.S. senator, hoping that Walker would serve as the instrument through which Trump could reassert political dominance over Georgia and erase the embarrassment of his 2020 loss. 

So Trump wooed Walker, he flattered Walker, he publicly pressured Walker to pick up and move here from Texas, and he basically guaranteed Walker an easy primary win. He even dared to announce Walker’s candidacy before Walker did.

And after Walker did as instructed, after he left his home in Texas, registered to vote in Georgia and then filed his papers to run here, Trump rewarded him with his “Complete and Total Endorsement.” A grateful Walker responded in kind, telling Trump via Twitter that “Together, we will win back the U.S. Senate for GEORGIA!!”

In 2022 America, though, the people still have a vote, and the people of Georgia have used that vote to say “not so fast!” Despite his football fame, Walker came in second in last week’s midterm election, trailing by 35,000 votes behind incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock. Thanks to Georgia’s peculiar runoff system, Walker – and Trump – now get a second chance, with the race to be decided on Dec. 6. 

All across the country, the midterm story was similar. In Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan and elsewhere, Trump-backed candidates lost races that the Republican Party had a real shot to win, leading even some conservatives to wonder whether the former president has become more liability than advantage.

Of course, Trump blames the poor showing by Republicans on anybody and everybody but himself. He blames the incompetence of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democrats who committed voter fraud, the media and even Fox News. He knows he cannot allow any sign of weakness as he launches his candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, not if he wants to intimidate other ambitious Republicans into staying out of the race.

But here’s the thing:

Politically speaking, Walker is Trump’s creation. If Trump doesn’t dare come to Georgia to campaign for Walker and help turn out base voters, if he stays away because his own hand-picked candidate doesn’t want him, Trump would essentially be admitting his own political decline. He would acknowledge to the world, not to mention to potential GOP challengers, that he has become ballot-box poison in an important purple state that he would need to carry in 2024 to have a chance at the White House. 

Much as it would enrage Trump, I’d bet Walker’s campaign staff would secretly be happier to have Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis come to Georgia and campaign than to have their candidate share the stage with Trump. A Trump campaign visit would also reopen wounds in the state party that have been barely stitched close after his “Stop the Steal” war on Gov. Brian Kemp.

OK, but what if it goes the other way? What if Trump insists on coming to Georgia to campaign with Walker? That too would be a huge risk for The Donald, with even bigger downsides. If Trump comes to Georgia and Walker loses the runoff, as is likely, Trump would get a large part of the blame. He would be accused – legitimately so – of alienating independent voters and turning the race into a referendum on himself, a referendum that he lost.

That would be the third Senate race in two years that Trump would have cost Georgia Republicans. The man who promised the GOP so much winning that they would get tired of winning has instead worn out his welcome in Georgia by losing so much. 

Prior to the midterms, Trump was perceived by many of us as a threat to America and to its democracy. That’s no longer the case; voters in Georgia and elsewhere have made it clear they will never return him to power. 

He remains, however, a serious threat to the GOP. They sold their souls to the devil, and the devil isn’t done with them yet.


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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.