Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
Herschel Walker, a former football star whose frequent Fox News appearances helped make him a MAGA sensation, launched a campaign on Tuesday for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock.
Walker's move is renewing fears among GOP leaders that the former football star will cost them a pick-up opportunity. "I don't know a single significant GOP operative who thinks Walker will lose the primary," well-connected right-wing talk radio host Erick Erickson tweeted. "I don't know a single significant GOP operative who thinks Walker will win the general."
Republicans have plenty of reasons to worry about Walker's chances of winning a general election in a swing state: He's a first-time candidate who is moving to the state for the race, he's a conspiracy theorist, and his wife is currently under investigation by state authorities for allegedly illegally voting in Georgia while living in Texas.
And last month, the Associated Press revealed that the candidate has "repeatedly threatened his ex-wife's life, exaggerated claims of financial success and alarmed business associates with unpredictable behavior."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly opposed Walker's potential campaign, and when the AP story dropped, one of McConnell's longtime senior advisers, Josh Holmes, called it "about as comprehensive a takedown as I've ever read," adding, "My lord." Erickson has subsequently suggested that the story was based on opposition research assembled by GOP operatives who were presumably trying to keep Walker out of the race.
But Walker had two of the most powerful forces in GOP politics behind him. Former President Donald Trump, who has a long personal relationship with Walker, publicly urged him to enter the race. And Fox, the propaganda outlet most trusted by the Republican base, helped him build a political brand by giving him frequent opportunities to appear on the network.
Walker has made at least 38 Fox appearances on the network since last June. First booked as a Black guest the network could turn to to criticize the nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality, Walker became a regular presence on the network discussing a range of topics -- including the false claims of election fraud which saturated Fox's coverage over the winter. "I think the president's got to get it right, and the people that need to go to jail need to go to jail," Walker said during a December 18 Fox appearance.
Walker's Fox hits helped turn the former NFL star into a MAGA sensation -- and prime-time star Sean Hannity helped turn him into a candidate. Nine of Walker's appearances came on Hannity's program. Beginning in February, the host repeatedly urged Walker on air to seek the Senate seat, and he started plugging Walker's potential candidacy during interviews of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Indeed, Trump issued his statement urging Walker to run the day after Hannity and Graham touted a possible Walker campaign.
Following the publication of the AP report, Walker followed the example of many other Republican politicians when faced with a potentially damaging story: He went on Hannity's show three days later for one of the host's typically fawning clean-up interviews.
This July 26 interview was, as far as I can tell, the only time the AP story has been even tangentially referenced on Fox. And Hannity never mentioned its content -- he simply said that he "read people starting to attack you a little bit," which he claimed shows that "there's a great fear that Herschel Walker is going to get in that Senate race in the state of Georgia, where you are one of the most loved figures." He then asked Walker, "Where are you on that decision?" Walker responded that he was considering the race and that "little articles like that ain't going to scare me."
Later in the program, Hannity again endorsed Walker's candidacy, saying that he "will be a phenomenal senator from Georgia" and "his policies will resonate with the people of Georgia and around the country."
Thanks to Hannity and his network, we might find out.
Update (8/25/21): Language updated for clarity.