As 2022 approaches, candidates on the right are scrambling to obtain that most coveted of prizes: an endorsement for the former president. A nod from Trump means a quick rise in the polls, massive fundraising boosts, and national press media attention. All of that leads to the much stronger possibility of a primary win, particularly in a crowded field where it's hard to be heard above the noise.
Trump's most recent endorsements demonstrate, however, that he has quite the knack for picking candidates with troubling histories. This is causing much hand-wringing among the GOP establishment. Two key Senate races in particular have Republican leaders worried.
Herschel Walker in Georgia
One of the most contested Senate races will be in purple Georgia, where Sen. Raphael Warnock is defending the seat he won in a run-off election in January 2021. Because Warnock was so successful at turning out the African American vote, Trump no doubt hopes to counter that with his endorsement of another Black candidate, the former football star and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.
Walker raised an impressive $3.7 million within launching his campaign back in early fall. Despite his long-standing residency in Texas and having never held public office, Walker is considered the GOP frontrunner in Georgia after announcing his much-anticipated candidacy in tandem with the Trump endorsement. Issuing a statement from his Super PAC, Trump declared that Walker, whom he considers an old friend, would be "unstoppable." Many other candidates dropped out or endorsed Walker upon his announcement.
It isn't clear whether racists within MAGA in Georgia will sit out the election if their only choices are two Black candidates, but since his announcement Walker's star has already begun to fade due to press scrutiny over his past.
As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, Walker has written about how he suffers from "dissociative identity disorder" where voices in his head that once calmed him transformed into distinct identities that, he claims, caused him to cheat on his wife and entertain suicidal thoughts. More troubling, however, is how they could also cause him to enter violent rages, the details of which he does not remember but included putting a gun to his wife's head.
The problems appear not to be limited to threats on his wife's safety. In 2002, a woman, who was a friend of his wife's, told police that Walker had threatened and stalked her, and an ex-girlfriend told authorities he had threatened to shoot her in the head. While Walker's campaign dismissed the allegation, saying it was politically motivated, CNN obtained the police report in which a police officer from Irving, Texas wrote that he had responded to a "prowler call" from a woman who said she believed someone was "sneaking around outside her house." The woman said she "felt she knew who the person would be" but was "very reluctant to tell me." She eventually revealed that it was Walker because she had experienced "a confrontation" with Walker a year earlier and "he began calling her, making threats to her and having her house watched."
Despite the alarms these incidents ought to raise, Mitch McConnell apparently has conceded that Walker, as Trump's pick, will be the candidate for Georgia and now has endorsed him in the primary.
Sean Parnell in Pennsylvania
In the hotly contested race in Pennsylvania to replace Sen. Pat Toomey, who is retiring from the senate, the Trump-backed candidate Sean Parnell is also beginning to cause Republicans considerable concern. His opponents in the primary have taken aim at his personal life and uncovered a history that may turn off many voters, particularly suburban women who are key to their hopes of keeping the seat red.
Parnell, at least on paper, initially seemed an ideal candidate for the GOP. He's a retired Army Ranger and a combat veteran with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor. A conservative media darling, he is close friends with Don Trump, Jr. and the Trump family, who encouraged him to run. After announcing on September 1, however, the troubles began.
Parnell's wife, who now goes by Laurie Snell, is estranged from him, but what wasn't clear until recently is that Snell actually filed for and was granted two court-issued protective orders which were later expunged. As CNN reported, the orders were for "protection from abuse" and were applied for and granted as recently as 2017 and 2018. In both cases, Parnell was required to relinquish his firearms and in one case leave the house. Parnell complied with the orders, which were granted after an uncontested hearing (i.e. one in which Parnell was not present) and granted on a temporary basis, per Pennsylvania law.
As CNN noted, Parnell's primary opponents are running attack ads, and it's getting very ugly. "We know that Parnell's wife placed multiple 911 calls leading to [a] protection from abuse order being filed against Parnell, but now Parnell is trying to silence his wife with a gag order to stop her from talking about what happened," proclaimed one TV ad from a super PAC supporting candidate Jeff Bartos. Parnell's campaign shot back. "Jeff Bartos is a desperate liar, plain and simple," Parnell said in a statement. "Bartos' allegations are horrific lies and all the evidence proves it."
A lawyer for Parnell's wife declined to disclose what prompted her to file for the protective orders but told CNN Snell was "relieved that these filings resulted in Mr. Parnell continuing to be excluded from the home where she and their children have resided since 2018. My client's main focus remains the best interests of their three children."
It is unlikely that either of these candidates' histories, alarming as they are, will result in a retraction of Trump's endorsement. In some ways, the most hard core of Trump's supporters may even see allegations of their bad behavior as a reason to rally behind them, just as they did when the tapes of Trump emerged where he freely recounted his practice of sexual assaults on women. It is therefore more than likely that one or even both of these candidates will become the GOP nominee for senator in their states.
But damaged candidates in these two key senate races—both backed strongly by Trump—may prove too toxic to voters in the general election. We saw this happen before in deeply red Alabama, where Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore, who had been credibly accused of sexual assault and of sexual misconduct with minors. The Trump endorsement also may bring out Democrats in droves to defeat his candidates, which is one likely reason Trump is largely sitting out the upcoming Virginia governor's race out of fear his support would actually torpedo a close race there.
One thing is certain: The Trump factor is in play in many places but will be determinative in at least a few key races in 2022. As details about his preferred candidates emerge, it shouldn't surprise anyone that someone as morally bankrupt and misogynistic as Trump will continue to throw his weight behind political acolytes of a similar disturbing nature.
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