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Sean Hannity and Herschel Walker

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Who is to blame for the Republican Party’s predicament, as Herschel Walker’s U.S. Senate campaign in Georgia reels from the firestorm kicked off by a report that the vocal abortion opponent once paid for one? Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R-GA) told CNN that Donald Trump, an early Walker endorser, is responsible for his nomination. Others point fingers at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who shed his reported misgivings and supported the volatile first-time candidate, or the GOP at large. While there’s some truth to all of those analyses, they miss a key figure in the Peach State plight.

Sean Hannity, the Republican kingmaker, Trump confidante, and Fox News host, is the one who put Walker on the political map and set the stage for his nomination — and the GOP’s current political dilemma. Walker owes his position to the patronage of a Fox prime-time host, just like the Republican Senate nominees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Arizona.

Walker — like Trump before him — changed his reputation from celebrity to plausible GOP candidate through frequent visits to Fox. And no one gave him a more potent platform than Hannity. Walker has made at least 24 appearances on Hannity since June 2020. Nine of those interviews came before Walker launched his run on August 25, 2021; 10 occurred between that date and the May 24, 2022, primary election; and five have come during the general election campaign.

But Hannity has done more than simply put Walker in front of his audience. In early 2021, he repeatedly urged Walker to run for office as a Republican, pledging his support to the former NFL star. “The GOP hype man and sometime Trump adviser seems to be trying to will Walker’s potential candidacy into existence,” I noted that April.

“I'm kind of hoping you might consider running for high office in Georgia. Would you consider that?” Hannity asked Walker during a February 10, 2021, interview, just weeks after Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) was sworn into office.

That interview marked the first mention of a Walker campaign in the Nexis database, and it launched the Fox host’s monthslong effort to bring him into the Senate race.

With Walker on the air on February 24, 2021, Hannity asked a Fox contributor, “Do we want him to run for governor or for senator?”

“Will you help me draft Herschel Walker to run for Senate down in Georgia?” Hannity asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on March 1, 2021.

“How do you like this?” Hannity asked Graham on March 9, 2021. “Because I know you said it last week — Herschel Walker for Senate from Georgia. How do you like that? I like the ring of that. What do you think?”

Graham replied, “I think it's a touchdown.”

That was enough for Trump. The former president, an avid Fox viewer, issued a statement the next day urging Walker to enter the race, generating a wave of speculation that he might do so. With Trump’s support and Hannity’s endorsement, both valuable commodities in a GOP primary, Walker joined the race that August and waltzed to the Republican nomination.

Republican operatives warned that the party’s chance of winning the Senate seat was jeopardized by Walker’s inexperience and instability — as The Associated Press reported in July 2021, he allegedly “repeatedly threatened his ex-wife’s life, exaggerated claims of financial success and alarmed business associates with unpredictable behavior.”

This week vindicated their fears. The Daily Beast reported on Monday that Walker, who supports a nationwide abortion ban, had in 2009 urged a girlfriend he impregnated to get one and then reimbursed her for it. That night, Walker’s right-wing influencer son Christian accused his father of threatening to kill him and his mother, as well as forcing them to “move over 6 times in 6 months running from your violence.” After Walker denied the Beast’s report, the outlet reported Wednesday that the woman who had the abortion he paid for is also the mother of one of his children. This triggered a new set of bizarre denials from the candidate. Then on Friday, the New York Times reported that the woman said Walker “urged her to terminate a second pregnancy two years later” and that the pair “ended their relationship after she refused,” resulting in the birth of their son.

But none of this seemed to phase Hannity, who spent the week in clean-up mode. The candidate’s first interview, hours after the first Daily Beast report broke, did feature “some surprisingly tough questions” from the host. But by the next night, Hannity was downplaying the story as a “family drama” that was unimportant compared to the “very serious allegations against” Warnock and the Democrat’s “extreme” views. And on Thursday, he zeroed in on the “pretty depraved far-left opponent radical Raphael Warnock” while describing Walker as “pretty open about his personal struggles.”

Hannity’s effort to pull his chosen candidate over the finish line may succeed in a difficult political environment for Democrats. But when television bomb-throwers maintain this much influence over a major political party and its voters, the party is going to make some bad decisions.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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