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Herschel Walker endorsements from high-ranking Republicans underscore sad truth

Donald Trump has a vise-like grip on the GOP — even when his demands could lead to utter embarrassment.

Herschel Walker, a GOP Senate candidate in Georgia, is racking up endorsements from fellow Republicans, despite troubling allegations about his past, including threatening to kill his ex-wife

On Monday, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-highest Republican in the Senate, threw his support behind Walker, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Thune called Walker "a fighter, a uniter  and a proven winner with the ability to bring Republicans together to win in November.”

Thune’s endorsement made him the fifth Republican senator to back Walker, and as minority whip, he’s the most senior official to do so. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hasn’t officially endorsed Walker, but he told Politico last month that “there’s every indication he’s going to be a good candidate.” 

Former President Donald Trump hugs Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker during his Save America rally in Perry, Ga., on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.Ben Gray / AP; Getty Images

Until last year, Walker, 59, was best known for darting between tackles as a star running back at the University of Georgia and in the NFL in the 1980s and ‘90s. Now, with former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, he’s a political neophyte whom Republicans see as one of their best hopes to regain Senate control in next year’s midterm elections. His bizarre rise to GOP front-runner is less a sign of his own political adroitness than it is a sign that Trump’s vise-like grip on the Republican Party remains firm. 

Like failed hurdlers, the GOP is running Georgia’s Senate race with complete disregard for the obstacles and rules of conventional politics — all because Trump says so. Walker was drafted in 1983 by the short-lived United States Football League to play for the New Jersey Generals; Trump became majority owner of the Generals a year later. Walker was also a former contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality TV show, and he campaigns like it. 

On Walker’s minimal speaking time at campaign events, several Republican operatives, including some associated with Walker’s campaign, told CNN that Walker does best by laying low. And recently, the Walker campaign had to cancel a campaign fundraiser after one of the event’s organizers displayed a swastika as her Twitter profile picture. Walker’s campaign initially defended the picture before denouncing it.

The Walker campaign’s missteps aren’t entirely surprising. Ordinarily, the skills needed to become a U.S. senator differ from the skills needed to become Trump’s business associate or his starting running back. But in modern times, with Republicans bending to Trump’s every whim, all three roles would seem to require the same thing: sufficient loyalty to the former president’s wishes. 

The party’s embrace of Walker is the latest indicator that Republicans largely do what Trump tells them — even when doing so leads them down an unpredictable path that could end in embarrassment. 

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