How Herschel Walker’s debate 'blunders' reveal the 'diseased state' of the Trumpified GOP: conservative
President Donald Trump is greeted by NFL Hall of Famer Herschel Walker during an event for black supporters at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta on Sept. 25, 2020. - BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/AFP/TNS

Before former football star and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Hershel Walker debated Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock on Friday, October 14, he set the bar low with some self-deprecating comments — saying “I’m not that smart” and warning that Warnock would be a better debater. Many pundits saw it as a calculated move on Walker’s part; when expectations are set so low, even a semi-competent performance can seem like a pleasant surprise.

Although some pundits, following the debate, commented that Walker’s performance was better than expected, the GOP candidate had his share of what The Hill’s Max Greenwood describes as “blunders.”

“At one point, when addressing the cost of insulin, Walker said that people ‘gotta eat right,’” Greenwood observes. “And in the most memorable and bizarre moment of the night, Walker was reprimanded by the debate’s moderator for brandishing a prop badge in response to remarks that he once claimed to have worked for law enforcement.”

During the debate, Walker was chastised by the moderator for showing a prop — which was a violation of debate rules. The Donald Trump-endorsed candidate denied that the badge was a prop, but he is not a law enforcement agent. And that badge is not an actual law-enforcement badge like the one that would be carried by an FBI agent or a detective for the Atlanta Police Department.

Nonetheless, Greenwood points out that Walker’s “expectation-setting ahead of the face-off meant that he had to clear a lower bar.”

Walker’s detractors have been arguing that his comments on insulin make it sound like he doesn’t understand how diabetes works. There are two types of diabetes. People who are born with diabetes and need to take insulin have Type 1 diabetes, while Type 2 diabetes (also known as “adult-onset diabetes”) is a condition that develops later in life and can be brought on by factors like obesity, having a poor diet and lack of exercise. It’s accurate to say that someone who has developed Type 2 diabetes or is prediabetic has “gotta eat right,” but Type 1 diabetics who use insulin still need their insulin even if they “eat right,” get adequate exercise and aren’t overweight.

Frustrated Twitter users have been lambasting Walker for his comments on diabetes and insulin. On October 17, Twitter user @ElizabethODr posted, “Someone please tell Hershel that even if a person ate ‘right’, they still need insulin to survive. They would die without it. Please someone. Help Hershel understand like explaining to a 5yr old!”

Twitter user @KozlakDerek sarcastically wrote, “Dr. Herschel Walker?” And @IBlockNazis angrily tweeted, “Is anyone arguing that people should NOT eat right? WTF does this have to do with the price of insulin in China?”

“Real Time” host Bill Maher and Never Trump conservative Peter Wehner, both of whom are vehement critics of Walker, view him as a glaring example of everything that is appalling about the Trumpified Republican Party in 2022.

During a scathing commentary on “Real Time,” Maher said of Walker, “Well, first of all, he's just a f*****g idiot on a scale almost impossible to parody…. Then there's the lying and the crazy and the violence. Not only did he write a book about having twelve different personalities — he wrote it with two other people. He admits that he used to play Russian roulette. He used to threaten to blow his wife's brains out — a lot — and seems to have never met a family member he hasn't threatened to kill. He threatened to kill his girlfriend, and he stalked a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.”

Equally scathing is an article written by Wehner and published by The Atlantic on October 17. Wehner views Walker as symptomatic of former President Donald Trump’s influence on the GOP.

“There have been plenty of awful candidates in American political history; what sets Herschel Walker apart is that he’s a wreck in so many different ways,” Wehner writes. “Walker, the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia trying to unseat Democrat Raphael Warnock, is a compulsive liar, so much so that he falsely claimed he has not made false claims about graduating from the University of Georgia. Walker’s speech is often unintelligible…. Walker is an absentee father who has been critical of absentee fathers. His campaign has acknowledged that he has three children by women to whom he was not married, in addition to his son Christian by his former wife, Cindy Grossman, who has alleged that Walker threatened to kill her.”

Wehner adds that Walker considers himself adamantly anti-abortion but, according to reporting in the Daily Beast, impregnated a woman in 2009 and paid for her to have an abortion — an allegation Walker has vehemently denied. And that allegation, Wehner laments, hasn’t stopped Ralph Reed (founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition), National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott and others in the GOP from rallying to his defense.

Wehner observes, “The most important and instructive thing about the Walker candidacy is what it tells us about the Republican Party, starting with how thoroughly Trumpified it is…. He is an archetypal MAGA candidate in a MAGA party. Like so many who now represent the GOP, Walker displays not just a lack of interest in serious ideas, but contempt for them. Benightedness is chic.”

The fact that MAGA Republicans vigorously defend Walker while hating Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, according to Wehner, speaks volumes about the state of the GOP in 2022.

“That the most impressive person in the Republican Party, Liz Cheney, is the most despised, says everything,” Wehner writes. “Whatever you thought about the GOP pre-Trump — and it may be that the ugliness was much closer to the surface than I wanted to acknowledge at the time — the Republican Party is today much more conspiracy-minded, anti-democratic, and anti-truth. This worries me, because I love my country. And it disheartens me, because I once admired my party. Today, however, because of its diseased state, the most urgent political task is to defeat it in the hopes of eventually rebuilding it.”