The Daily Beast report alleging—with substantial documentary evidence—that Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate for the Senate in Georgia, paid for a girlfriend’s abortion is already having an impact on polls. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with paying for an abortion. But Walker has repeatedly called abortion “murder.” Last month, Insider Advantage had Walker leading his Democratic rival Raphael Warnock by three points, 47 percent to 44 percent. In the new poll, conducted in part after the scandal broke, the numbers have flipped. Warnock now stands at 47.2 percent, with Walker trailing at 43.6. The same trend line can be seen in the model of Decision Desk, a right-wing polling aggregator, which has a model showing the Georgia race moving from leaning Democratic to likely Democratic.
But if Walker is taking a hit from the scandal, will the damage really be lasting? After all, scandals have a way of dissipating. Immediately after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, where then-candidate Donald Trump could be heard uttering the notorious words “grab them by the pussy,” many elected Republicans distanced themselves from the presidential nominee. But, in short order, a combination of a partisan desire to control the presidency and a loathing for Hillary Clinton helped GOP officials and voters overcome their fleeting scruples and moments of guilty conscience.
Writing in The Washington Post, conservative columnist Henry Olsen predicts that a similar dynamic will be in play in the Georgia race. “Elections are about choices,” he insists. “Those choices are often decidedly imperfect.” Olsen rehearses the many examples of voters of all political stripes who were able to hold their noses and vote for the most scandal-plagued candidates: Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Trump. Character, Olsen insists, doesn’t really count for most voters. Not when the chips are down.
This is an imposing list, although one could come up with counter-examples of candidates hurt by scandal such as Roy Moore, who lost the special Senate election in Alabama in 2017 in no small part because of sordid scandals involving alleged predation on minors.
Still, there’s some plausibility in Olsen’s argument. Trump himself claims that Walker might have been hurt by the swirl of allegations against him a few years ago but that the political climate has changed to make that less likely. The implication seems to be that partisan polarization and Trump’s own example of weathering numerous controversies have created a new politics. It’s undeniable that the Republican Party on an institutional level continues to rally behind Walker.
You can already see right-wing pundits working overtime to come up with reasoning to justify continued support of Walker. Dana Loesch was splendidly candid, in ways that did her cause little credit, about the partisan logic for continued support of Walker. On her podcast, she said, “I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only at this point. I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate. If The Daily Beast’s story is true, you’re telling me Walker used his money to reportedly pay some skank for an abortion, and Warnock wants to use all of our moneys to pay an all bunch of skanks for abortion.”
Yet the argument that Walker will recover from the scandal ignores two crucial facts. One is that there is more than one scandal. In the wake of the abortion allegation, Walker’s son Christian accused the candidate of lying about his personal life. Christian Walker tweeted, “I know my mom and I would really appreciate if my father Herschel Walker stopped lying and making a mockery of us. You’re not a ‘family man’ when you left us to bang a bunch of women, threatened to kill us, and had us move over 6 times in 6 months running from your violence.”
In other words, Herschel Walker is fending off multiple scandals, each one of which might be disregarded by voters but the totality of which add up to a radically unfit candidate. It’s not just the tidal wave of controversy that’s the problem, but also that the scandal insures that abortion gains saliency as an election issue.
In his analysis, Olsen writes as if only anti-abortion votes are at stake. Olsen contends:
The choice between Warnock and Walker isn’t a hard one for Republicans or pro-lifers. Warnock is a solidly progressive Democrat who has largely backed his party’s agenda. That’s disqualifying for any partisan Republican. Warnock also unreservedly supports abortion rights, even reiterating his support for them in responding to Monday’s bombshell report. Walker could be a major disappointment to his voters as a senator, but he couldn’t possibly be as problematic to them as Warnock.
Olsen doesn’t consider the fact that some pro-choice voters are also Republicans or Republican leaners. These voters might give abortion a lower priority if the election were about, say, inflation or crime.
But Walker’s scandal is making abortion the topic of the week, not just in Georgia but nationally. A strict abortion law took effect in Georgia in July. A poll conducted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) found that most Georgians opposed that law—and that more Georgians are motivated to vote for pro-choice candidates than for pro-life ones. As the website Governing notes, “Almost 55 percent of voters polled by the AJC said they disagree with Georgia’s new abortion law, which outlaws the procedure in most cases once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity—as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant. About 36 percent of Georgians polled support the measure.” The website also reports, “In the poll, about 42 percent of likely voters said they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to protect abortion rights. About 25 percent said they’re motivated to vote for candidates who want to limit access to the procedure.”
In Georgia, as in almost anywhere in the United States, there are more pro-choice voters than anti-choice ones. That’s the real problem Walker and the GOP face. The problem is not that Walker is a hypocrite. People are willing to overlook hypocrisy if they like what a candidate stands for. But Walker stands for something people don’t like, and the latest scandal brings that to light. Most people want to be able to avail themselves if necessary of the same services Walker paid for—and they are getting a reminder that he wants to deny them that right.