Herschel Walker: The Republican Party Brand
It's tough to write anything about Herschel Walker. Like Trump, every day is a new low. Has he eclipsed Trump as the new GOP Brand? Or does his candidacy represent something far worse?
I started writing this piece about 5 or 6 times... every few days I would be forced to update the list of outrageous Herschel Walkerisms with something new that he'd done or said that was even more outrageous than the one that I'd just written down. Like Trump, the outrageous acts are never ending, each one designed to top the last. (Or bottom the last?)
"He's a fucking idiot on a scale almost impossible to parody." Bill Maher pretty much boiled HW down to his core moron.
Maher did a fantastic job this last weekend laying out Walker's candidacy. Take a minute if you can and watch if you didn't catch it. I disagree with his final analysis though. Maher thinks that Walker's candidacy, somewhat like the former POTUS, is the reactionary result to Dem's ultra-liberal over reach... another poke in the eye to 'stick it to the libs.' There's something to that in almost every facet of today's Republican Party, but I think there is something else at play.
So what makes Walker the Republican brand? For sure, he's just another Trump toadie, running the Trump playbook to perfection. (He DOES know how to follow a playbook.) Run for office, pad the resume, embellish your accomplishments, wave the flag, wave the bible, talk about "family values," deny any wrongdoing, deny some more, and when caught red-handed in any given lie, deny some more and insist the question and interviewer are illegitimate.
It took the GOP 30-40 years to build their brand. And there is simply nothing to compare to their brand ID and strength. Patriotism, (Christian) God, and ('traditional') family. The three legged stool of the modern Republican identity.
After Goldwater was shellacked by LBJ in 1964, conservatives knew that they had to do something. The Vietnam war ultimately proved a disaster in the eyes of the general public, and the cultural revolution of the 60's and early 70's further eroded faith in conservative ideals. However, Republican activists that remained vowed to change all of that. The ultra-wealthy, dynastic families, and big business knew that they needed to make an investment.
Over the decades, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on developing the conservative identity. Think tanks, foundations, family trusts, political societies... all worked to develop an appealing message for the masses. New communication channels were established - conservative and religious television channels appeared, AM radio was captured by right-wing talk, and alliances were struck with evangelical Christian leaders. These various partnerships in turn developed/financed young leaders, down-ballot politicians, and media personalities. Conservative judges were groomed for state and federal appointments. More importantly, they hired consultants and specialists who crafted resonant language and messaging (also known as propaganda) to shape perceptions of the party.
Millionaires and billionaires flocked to support this growing movement, and they had one thing on their mind: reduce my taxes. They wanted lower income taxes, lower capital gains taxes, and favorable treatment (tax breaks) for business development. As a sidebar, they wanted no government regulation and favored a country without social security, medicare, or any other New Deal program that required them to share in a social safety net. Their 'movement' needed mass buy-in from people least able to afford a reduction of government support, but the message was too powerful to resist.
Conservative politicians followed their benefactors' guidance, touting tax cuts and cutting "wasteful" services. As was the case in the Roaring Twenties, these cuts benefitted the upper class exponentially and would begin an enormous upward redistribution of wealth. Right-wing economists (also financed by their think tanks) insisted that "trickle-down economics" or "supply-side economics," where wealthy individuals and large corporations (unburdened by taxes) would feed hiring and community investment and growth-for-all. Instead, just like in the twenties, large corporations and the wealthy class just took more profit.
That payoff was more wildly successful than anything they could have imagined. The movement reached a pinnacle with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Reagan slashed taxes. The top marginal tax rate went from 73% to 28%. In what became the driving theme behind the party, Reagan would quip in his inaugural address, "Government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem." For many Americans, this would shift how they felt about their government.
Since the days that FDR's New Deal had brought the country out of the Depression, Americans had mostly viewed the government as a force for good and one that worked for the benefit of everyone and not just the wealthy. Reagan, with the continued support of a powerful and well-supported right-wing infrastructure, would normalize the animosity toward government that we see today.
The party message gurus and their disciples also subtly started to disparage Democrats and their constituents. By claiming themselves the true Americans, the authentic Christians, and the protectors of family values, they implied that non-Republicans were anti-American, anti-religion, and wanted to tear families apart. They began to label progressives as "tax-and-spend-liberals," "takers," and finally, "socialists." For those that fell behind as wages stagnated and jobs were outsourced (or replaced by technology) - they were told that they were lazy. Progressive leaders were chastised as being "elitists," and "Washington insiders," (you know, like Republicans.)
Reagan's sunny disposition kept the focus on feel-good promises about creating a new "Morning in America." Reagan, you will remember, was an actor. His communication handlers deftly exploited the racism that has always been a part of (especially) conservative America by using 'dog-whistles" and coded language in Reagan's speeches as they further solidified the brand. He would talk about "Cadillac-driving welfare queens." He launched his campaign right outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi — the site of the notorious “Mississippi Burning” murder of three civil rights workers in 1964.
The brand grew stronger. Reagan was no gift to the middle class, but the party ID held. His tax cuts almost exclusively benefitted the top 1%. His economy grew only .2 % stronger than it had under the much-maligned Jimmy Carter. By the time he left office, the poorest 20 percent of households were paying a slightly higher tax rate than when Carter was president. His own budget director admitted that the promise of tax cuts for everyone “was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate” for the richest. He deregulated banks which lead to the implosion of the Savings and Loan industry and the largest financial bailout (132 billion) of banking up to that time. Though he oversaw the end of the Cold War, he would be responsible for the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan would also largely ignore the AIDs crisis, though his own son was gay.
But again, the cloak of that patriotic, Christian, family-man brand was less a cloak and more like a suit of armor. He became known in some circles as the "Teflon President" because no bad news ever seem to stick to him.
The party saw this almost unlimited strength. Voters were drawn to this strength. Even staunch Union members (a constituency that had been part of the progressive movement for decades) became "Reagan Democrats," and ultimately Republicans based on the brand. It didn't hurt that the GOP was gutting the Union through legislation. It DID hurt worker's wages. But again, the identity value of joining the tribe became more of a draw then higher wages.
It also didn't hurt the Republican brand that Democrats had no idea how to respond. They stuck with speeches about wonky policy proposals, they favored independent messaging, and their argumentative campaign strategies left them all fending for themselves instead of building any party identity or challenging the authenticity of their opponents. Their ridicule of Republicans and their religion and traditional and often rural lifestyles only hardened the Republican resolve to beat them.
Which brings us to the present. That tribalism grew and grew and became its own force. Families, churches, communities and finally regions and states banded tightly together to elect GOP candidates. As Reagan proved, you didn't necessarily have to pass a purity test to define yourself as pure.
It worked well for decades. Then along came Trump.
Trump was another celebrity who knew how to excite an audience. He had a reptilian mind for energizing a crowd, for creating a mob. After 8 years of being led by a progressive, black president, Trump didn't bother to speak in coded language. The filters were off. He mocked veterans, former POWs, Gold Star families, women, the handicapped, the physically challenged, the poor, and of course, non-whites. He lied, brazenly and often. He exaggerated his accomplishments and denied he had ever fallen short... at anything. He cheated on multiple wives and was caught paying a 6 figure hooker out of campaign funds. He demanded total fealty among his supporters, and the slightest challenge to his authority was a firing offense. He was notoriously xenophobic. His speaking manner can only be described as barely coherent rage.
You know all this.
And the brand still holds.
Trump would deny that he lost a free and fair election, even though it was reviewed and audited by his fellow Republican officials. No one could present a shred of credible evidence that it wasn't fair.
But that brand. It has grown so strong that the believers not only feel that they are the true patriots, the Christians, the family... but that all other participants in democracy were illegitimate... were fraudulent and "fake." The fierce Republican primary base and the constant threat of violence have once-moderate Republicans forced to agree or remain silent on questions of the election's legitimacy. And now no one ever bothers to question Trump and his acolyte's bona-fides. It has become cult-like behavior.
Enter the recent wackadoodles. Office holders like gun totin', pistol-packin' mamas Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene. MJT famously blamed CA wildfires on secret Jewish space lasers. And this from Boebert- “I don’t know who’s running the federal government these days—Joe Biden or Prince John from… uh… Prince John.” GOP Senate nominee Don Bolduc recently told supporters that he thought the future of abortion rights “belongs” to Republican “gentlemen” state lawmakers. “That is the best way, I think, as a man, that women get the best voice: at the state level, not at the federal level."
You know these stories and hundreds more. Fellow Outlaw Roger Gray published a piece on some of these idiocies only a week or two ago.
In walks US Senate candidate Hershel Walker from up stage right. He's cut from the same branded cloth as these other wack jobs. He lies about his background, lies about his paternity. Surprise! He has multiple out-of-wedlock children although he speaks often about fatherless children being a "major, major problem" in the black community. He declined to take any "major, major" responsibility for that problem.
More lies about his work experience, and his education. Recently, he went all Blazing Saddles and "whipped out" a sheriff's badge during an interview to show that he was also a law enforcement officer. Let's hope that some flight attendant doesn't give him souvenir airline wings next time he boards a flight.
As I mentioned, I kept trying to write this piece, but like any good Heisman Trophy winner, Herschel Walker kept outrunning me. I couldn't type the gaffes and falsehoods and comment on the bullshit fast enough.
And speaking of bullshit... just a couple of days ago, he was telling what is evidently a favorite anecdote of his about a bull and six cows in a field. "And see, three of 'em cows are pregnant... So you know he got somethin' going on! But all he care about, is keepin' his nose against the fence, keepin' an eye out on them three other cows that don't belong to him..."
Sorry Outlaws reader, I can't go on. I have no idea what the nonsense is all about. I assume it's a little allegory, and he's the bull... and there are cows that aren't pregnant, see... and... I told you, I give up. I do know that wherever there is a bull, there's plenty of bullshit.
But take a look behind him. That's Senator Tom Cotton and Senator Rick Scott, two of Trump's top supporters. Both are attorneys, one with a Harvard law degree. What has to be running through their minds hearing this gibberish? We've all seen souls sacrificed for the sake of hyper-partisanship... but is there no limit?
They're there, standing behind Walker to back-the-brand... because a few days ago the media informed the very anti-abortion Walker that an old girlfriend alleged that he had paid for her to get an abortion. She presented a check for several hundred dollars and a get-well card, both signed by Walker as proof. Walker denied knowing the woman.
Walker has been a staunch anti-abortion candidate. Abortion is "a woman killing her baby," according to the bull looking through the fence. He added, "there’s no exception in my mind … Like I say, I believe in life. I believe in life.” The woman then came forward again and claimed her ten-year-old child was Walker's son. He, in fact, pays child support. Walker suddenly remembered her, but denied the money and card that he had given her was for an abortion.
What say you Senator Cotton, Senator Scott? Standing behind that good Republican Christian Family man? Say, if it's no trouble, do you mind stopping off and buying him a box of Trojans? Better make it a case, the bull is likely to hop over that fence again.
Newt 'the-serial-philanderer' Gingrich also rushed to defend Walker:
“I think he’s the most important Senate candidate in the country because he’ll do more to change the Senate just by the sheer presence, by his confidence, by his deep commitment to Christ, by the degree to which he has – you know, he’s been through a long, tough period. He had a lot of concussions coming out of football, he suffered PTSD.” -Newt on FoxNews
That commitment to Christ shines through, Newton. He sure plants those Godly seeds everywhere, it seems.
But I'm glad to see Newt supporting Herschel, what with all those concussions. It's nice to know that the GOP is now hiring special needs folks, especially ones with mental challenges. Nothing will bolster Herschel's confidence more than a Senate seat. I hope they let him wear his little sheriff's badge around the chamber. (Sidebar: let's not forget that Republicans have been slashing mental health services for decades.)
One last minor point about HW. Parties run candidates that they think can be competitive. Georgia is a white-majority state, but just barely. The incumbent is a fairly well-respected senator. He's a minister with an earned PhD in theology. He's black. He's divorced with two kids. He doesn't have a scandal in his background. It's not a secret that running a black celebrity was about the only play that the Republicans had.
No doubt that the ambitious, competitive Walker was ready to jump into the breach. Yet other than his skin color and football fame, he's about the least qualified candidate to run for office since a game show host rode down an escalator in New York. Sure, he certainly has agency. But even the likes of Newt Gingrich admit that he appears to have brain damage. (At one time, Walker was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity - multiple personality - Disorder.) Seems a bit cynical to me. A political party that's obsessed with whiteness choosing a uniquely witless (or possibly damaged) black candidate. Many in the black community slur him with the "Uncle Tom" label, others simply call him "white." There's a calculation that white Republicans will vote for him just to prove that they're NOT racist since they feel constantly slandered on that issue by the left. Their version of "owning the libs" would be a vote for a black senator. We'll see.
Does all of this make him the new Brand? Somehow more representative of the Republican id than The Donald? He certainly seems to embody the complete and total break from what the GOP says they stand for. Unlike Trump, Walker hasn't spent his life as performance art, craving the spotlight. He is simply running the play. His Dissociative Identity is being a Christian Values Family candidate. His party and supporters seem (so far) fine with the act. If elected, we'll know that nothing matters but loyalty to the tribal identity.
I've once again buried the lede. But I got you this far.
And here it is. None of this matters. He is who he is, and he's a pretty shoddy piece of work. And we (meaning moderates, liberals, anti-trumpers, Democrats, snarky writers) will make fun, joke, psycho-analyze, campaign against, and completely misunderstand what makes the GOP go 'round.
Dana Loesch, the former NRA spokesperson and another in an obnoxious battalion of right-wing radio personalities, broke through and gave us the answer. She was addressing the issue of Walker paying for the abortion. She "said the quiet part out loud" as the kids like to say:
"I don't care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles, I want control of the Senate!"
There it is.
Simple as that, and it's the concept that's been lost in time to Democrats and Independents.
It's about Control.
Unsaid by Loesch - it's usually the ultra-wealthy who pay for that brand and direct that power.
Walker could care less if he got caught again with his zipper down. Or holding up a toy sheriff's badge. Just like Mitch McConnell lost no sleep when he held up Merrick Garland's nomination (or rushed Amy Coney Barrett's nomination forward.) Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick did not feel guilty when they slashed voting rights or redistricted the hell out of the state to benefit white, Republican voters.
You don't get to make political decisions, known as "laws," unless you have it.
Power. Herschel, the retired football star, knows to keep hitting. He knows about power. So does Trump.
Progressives are even uncomfortable with the word itself. "Power"... It just doesn't seem... you know... fair! They used to understand. Labor unions didn't exist without some serious power struggles, and maybe more than one or two broken kneecaps. LBJ didn't pass the Voter Right's Act, the Civil Right's Act, and get Medicare/Medicaid passed without knowing how to obtain and use legislative and presidential power. The same can be said of FDR and The New Deal.
Power. It's time that progressives and moderates understood how it works. Because there may be a new sheriff coming to town.