Herschel Walker and several of the Black, mostly male political figures elevated recently by the Republican Party have a fun “party” trick (pun intended) they love to show off in public.
There’s one particular trait that unites Black conservatives like Walker, fellow Georgia Republican Vernon Jones, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, and even flash-in-the-pan candidates like failed U.S. House candidate Jerone Davison of Arizona: They use performative toughness to mask their meekness as politicians.
Follow our Georgia Senate runoff live blog at msnbc.com/GArunoff beginning Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET for the latest updates and expert analysis in real time.
By playing up their personas as right-wing firebrands, they avoid having to answer for the fact their policies would largely do nothing to stem inequality that’s long plagued Black people. In fact, in many cases, their policies would only make things worse.
Instead, they lean into purported toughness, which they stereotypically express through violence, hypermasculinity, misogyny and/or transphobia. And in economic terms, this toughness is portrayed as rugged individualism that amounts to severing Black people from government assistance or government participation whatsoever — a key desire for Republicans, which is why Black conservatives like Walker appeal to them.
Walker, for example, has staked his campaign largely on right-wing talking points denouncing trans kids playing youth sports and what he’s cited as a decline of the U.S. military due to policies meant to make it more inclusive to trans people. Walker, I should note, has never served in any branch of the armed forces (despite having touted a military "career.")
Jones, notably a former Democrat, lost his U.S. House primary in Georgia earlier this year. Endorsed by former President Donald Trump, Jones explicitly tried to drive a wedge between LGBTQ rights and Black rights despite, ignoring the fact that over 1 million Black people in the United States are LGBTQ, and several pioneers of the civil rights movement were LGBTQ.
Robinson is a raging homophobe and transphobe who threatened violence against the U.S. government for proposing gun safety measures; he said God intended for men to lead women and suggested math and science courses be banned from some school curricula.
And Davison garnered attention for an ad in which he claimed he needed an assault rifle to fend off “Democrats in Klan hoods,” clearly trying to recycle a dubious talking point about Democrat-borne racism.
Each of these men has sought to launder extremist politics popularized by conservative white men using their Black faces. They've been in virtual lockstep with the national GOP on fiscal policy, though, which is to say largely aligned with a party that doesn’t think it’s worthwhile to focus attention on anti-Black racism — in the economy or elsewhere.
I think that’s the most important distinction between Black progressives like Sen. Raphael Warnock, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Wisconsin Senate candidate Mandela Barnes, and Black conservatives like Walker, Robinson and Jones.
Black progressives know the vital role Black people have played in building the United States, and they audaciously propose policies that serve Black folks accordingly, such as increasing voter access or investing in infrastructure.
It’s a grift. And I ain’t buying it.