Trump’s no-win situation in Georgia Senate runoff

Herschel Walker
Football legend Herschel Walker is facing an uphill battle heading into his Tuesday runoff election against incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), but a surprise upset result from Walker could still foreshadow a negative showing for former President Donald Trump’s chances in the 2024 cycle. Bill Barrow/AP

Trump’s no-win situation in Georgia Senate runoff

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Football legend Herschel Walker is facing an uphill battle heading into his Tuesday runoff election against incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), but a surprise upset result from Walker could still foreshadow a negative showing for former President Donald Trump in the 2024 cycle.

Trump, the lone top-tier Republican to announce a 2024 White House bid, likely needs a Walker win to maintain his grip over GOP voters and, perhaps more importantly, donors. But party operatives suggest a Walker win would signify support for frequent Trump critic Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA).

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Warnock bested Walker by just a half-percentage point on Nov. 8 but triggered the runoff by failing to garner 50% of the vote. Polls show him maintaining a slight but consistent lead over Walker heading into Tuesday.

Trump hand-picked Walker, a friend of nearly 40 years, to challenge Warnock. Yet the former president’s waning popularity and mounting legal troubles prompted Republican leaders to urge him to avoid campaigning in the state in the runoff.

Multiple Republican officials previously expressed concerns that Trump’s timing of his presidential campaign announcement, one week after the midterm elections and less than a month before the Georgia runoff, would negatively affect the party’s chances of winning back Warnock’s seat.

Furthermore, while Trump has avoided the Peach State, Kemp has drastically escalated his stumping for Walker in recent weeks after staying away from the race ahead of the general.

However, he suggested his turn for the former University of Georgia football star was based squarely in opposition to President Joe Biden and Democrats in Washington, not any actual support for Walker or, by extension, Trump.

“When I’m talking about going to Washington, D.C., and fighting for what Georgians need, I’m talking about the border, 40-year-high inflation, astronomical gas prices since Joe Biden took office, and the agenda that Raphael Warnock has supported up there,” Kemp said in a recent interview with CNN. “That’s why I’m voting for Herschel Walker.”

The Georgia governor, who cruised to an easy reelection himself in November, rose to the top of Trump’s GOP hit list in late 2020 by repeatedly rejecting Trump’s election fraud claims and Trump’s bizarre campaigning in the previous runoff, which often suggested that Republican votes would likely be discounted. Many GOP insiders blame the loss of the Georgia Senate seats on Trump.

Two Georgia GOP operatives told the Washington Examiner that a Walker win would be “a major indictment of Trump” that also solidifies Kemp as the top Republican in the state.

“Donald Trump is responsible for losing Republicans the Senate in 2020. He’s responsible for us not taking back both chambers this year,” one operative stated. “Let’s be honest: Walker now looks like one of the worst candidates ever, and a miraculous upset win Tuesday will be because Georgia voters absolutely love Gov. Kemp, not the former president.”

Former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), an ex-Trump critic-turned-backer-turned-critic again, offered a similar analysis in an interview over the weekend.

“People wondered whether [Kemp] would go all in or not. He has. With his staff, he has been out there personally campaigning for Walker,” he said on ABC. “He would be the first human being who ever dragged Herschel Walker over the goal line.”

Christie further predicted that though the race will be “close,” Democrats’ ability to hold on to their Senate majority before the Georgia runoff concludes will likely drive down Republican turnout.

“Warnock appears to have momentum. And let’s face it, he came into this with a lead from election night, right? So Walker has got ground to make up,” he explained. “What hurts the Republicans the most is you can’t argue now that this is for control. If it was for control, some people who have some misgivings about Herschel Walker would probably be willing to abandon those in order to prevent Democrats from getting control, but now that control is not up, I think that may hurt Republican turnout a little bit.”

Still, like Walker, Warnock’s campaign is also hampered by a deeply unpopular party leader. Biden’s approval rating in the state isn’t much better than Trump’s, and come Tuesday, it will be 11 months since the president visited Georgia, despite its battleground status. Former President Barack Obama, on the other hand, campaigned heavily for Warnock in the final days of the general and runoff elections.

Biden and White House officials have stated that the president will help Warnock however he’s asked, insinuating top Democrats suggested Biden, like Trump, keep away ahead of the runoff.

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“I’m going to Georgia today to help Sen. — not to Georgia — Sen. Warnock,” Biden cryptically told reporters Friday before leaving the White House for a Democratic fundraiser in Boston. “I’m doing a major fundraiser up in Boston today for our next and continued Senate candidate and senator.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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