Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker has dominated the news cycle recently with a variety of scandals. These have ranged from Walker’s chicken business benefitting from unpaid labor to lying about treating veterans and graduating college to using fake police badges as a fundraising tool after he was called out for pretending to be a police officer. There was also, of course, the report that he had paid for an abortion for a woman he was dating in 2009.
The last story in this list has only grown since it first broke – reports that he dumped her when she refused to get a second abortion, texts between the woman and Walker’s wife, Walker’s campaign firing his political director after the revelations, Walker’s son Christian repeatedly attacking his father not only for the abortions but his behavior towards Christian and his mother. This would, of course, be fine – except Walker is running on an aggressive “pro-life” platform, that includes no exceptions even in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Apparently, exceptions include his own convenience.
This shouldn’t be surprising, as this particular hypocrisy has a history – be it Scott DesJarlais or Scott Lloyd or Tim Murphy or Elliott Broidy. And for all the hopes that this will move the polls, that this scandal more than the legion of others will turn voters away from voting for Walker, the hypocrisy won’t matter.
The reason Walker will get away with being the pro-life candidate, despite his history, is the same reason why Trump, a man whose entire life is built around crassness, corruption, self-aggrandizement, and crudity, gets to be God’s champion. The result will always outweigh the sins – and if Walker in the Senate will pass a national abortion ban, if Trump will appoint the right Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, well, then he gets a pass.
That kind of calculation, cold and practical, is certainly part of it. But if we assume that every vote, every political decision, comes from a place of cold materialistic calculation, we lose sight of the bigger and more dangerous problem: Christianity contains multitudes, and those multitudes can be used for harm. As Anthea Butler wrote:
Morality is not something that white evangelicals actually demand of their candidates. What they want is for their chosen candidates to bring them power and prestige. They want their candidates, such as former President Donald Trump, to deliver policies, judges and laws that erase abortion and same sex-marriage rights. Their aim is not democracy, but theocracy.
It is not just results; it is what those results could bring.
Walker is following closely in the Trumpian model because Trump’s support from evangelicals has both apocalyptic and deeply Biblical models. It is not just what he can deliver – though Dana Loesch, for one, was very open that that’s all she cares about:
Conservative radio host Dana Loesch: “I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only, at this point. So I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles — I want control of the Senate.” pic.twitter.com/7sdjVjidS8
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) October 5, 2022
The Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America group is maintaining its support and its PAC funding, and reports suggest that Walker’s religious supporters are unfazed. And the GOP certainly is backing him to the hilt.
Walker himself, though, went from claiming “this is a flat-out lie – and I deny this in the strongest possible terms,” to the much more interesting defense on Fox News that, “People see someone sitting in front of you right now that’s been redeemed. And I want America to know: I’m living proof that you can make mistakes, get up, and keep going forward.” His new campaign ad ends with, “Warnock’s a preacher who doesn’t tell the truth. He doesn’t even believe in redemption. I’m Herschel Walker. Saved by Grace.” And this is the narrative that will keep going forward. David Brody, for example, said:
But Herschel Walker is a man who, when he gave his life to Jesus Christ years ago, became a sinner saved by grace. He admits he was never a Boy Scout. But when you truly give your life to Jesus Christ, he forgives you of your past. It’s washed away, covered under the Blood, as they say. Despite members of the liberal media who clearly can’t grasp the concept.
The sins of Walker’s past are forgiven, regardless of the hypocrisy – and, in fact, they are an important component of what makes him important.
Because beyond his utility, he gets to play the David card.
We remember King David in so many ways – a shepherd boy, beloved by God, who slays a giant; a model of virtue and masculinity for medieval Christians and Jews; as the player of a sacred chord that pleased the lord; and as a sacred king. But he is also a murderer and adulterer whose relationship with Bathsheba is based on rape rather than love.
For his crime he is punished by god – his beloved son Absalom dies rebelling against him, and as Samuel 2 18:33 recounts, he wandered, crying out, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” And after suffering, he went on to serve as the chosen king, God’s model for Biblical kingship and masculinity. The narrative of redemption: the flawed hero, whose sexual immorality has consequences but whose suffering leads to God’s purpose, is still found to be worthwhile.
Herschel Walker is not going to be punished by evangelical voters for his transgressions. They are not going to turn on him, nor are they going to be turned away by the hypocrisy of his past. His redemption narrative, combined with his politics, is not so much a get-out-of-jail card as it is modeled on a bad reading of Biblical narrative: he must be akin to a David, like Donald Trump, a flawed secular hero who can still serve God’s purpose.
What they really are, of course, are hypocrites, who embrace the notion of one set of rules for themselves, and another set of rules for everyone else. But as long as those rules oppress the right people, the voters will stay with them.
Thomas Lecaque is Associate Professor of History at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, located on Baxoje, Meskwaki and Sauk lands. He has written for The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and The Bulwark. Follow him @tlecaque on Twitter.