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Why Herschel Walker is telling voters, ‘I’m not that smart’

In most campaigns, candidates want to convince voters that they’re competent. In Georgia, there's a reason Herschel Walker is saying he's "not that smart."


In most campaigns, candidates want to convince voters that they’re competent, capable and worthy of voters’ respect. In Georgia’s U.S. Senate campaign, Herschel Walker is voluntarily saying he’s “not that smart,” though as a Savannah Morning News report made clear, there’s a reason the Republican made the comments.

On Wednesday, Walker agreed to a televised debate against [incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock] before a live audience in Savannah.... The highly anticipated debate is less than a month away, but Walker downplayed himself when asked what he is doing to prepare for the showdown against Warnock.

“I’m a country boy,” the former football player said. “I’m not that smart. He’s a preacher. [Warnock] is smart and wears these nice suits. So, he is going to show up and embarrass me at the debate Oct. 14, and I’m just waiting to show up and I will do my best.”

In campaigns, this is what’s known as “managing expectations.” Ahead of their Senate debate, it’s in Walker’s interest to set expectations so low that he’ll win just by showing up. Warnock is one of American politics’ most gifted orators; Walker struggles to speak coherently; so the Republican is deliberately downplaying his chances so that viewers will tune in and be impressed if he manages to speak in complete sentences.

And who knows, this might very well work out for him. As political forums go, debates tend to favor those who struggle with substantive details because, due to practical constraints, candidates are required to give short answers. Plenty of wildly unprepared contenders have survived debates by simply memorizing a few soundbites.

The next day, voters are confronted with headlines that effectively read, “Candidate Jones didn’t drool on himself,” and flattering assessments soon follow.

The trouble is, Walker still isn’t a good candidate. At a campaign event last week, the Republican told supporters, “They get mad at me cause I say, ‘I don’t want any more trees.’ I don’t. I want police officers. I want border patrol. I want somebody in my schools to protect my kids. Eighty seven IRS agents. They’re laughing ‘cause I said trees. No, I don’t want trees. I want police officers.”

First, running on an anti-tree agenda is a little weird.

Second, no one laughed at Walker because he referenced trees. He did, however, raise a few eyebrows when he complained about new climate legislation by insisting that “we have enough trees,” which really didn’t make any sense.

Third, the United States is the world’s wealthiest country, and there’s no reason to think we have to choose between trees and police officers. We can afford both.

And finally, Walker randomly referenced “87 IRS agents,” but I think he was trying to complain about 87,000 IRS agents — which is a common Republican complaint about a problem that doesn’t exist in reality.

Georgia’s Senate debate is four weeks away. Watch this space.