As recently as this summer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to have gross misgivings about the Senate candidacy of Herschel Walker in Georgia.
In response to an Associated Press story in July detailing Walker’s turbulent past – reportedly threatening his ex-wife, exaggerating his business successes etc. – Josh Holmes, a longtime McConnell confidant, tweeted this: “This is about as comprehensive a takedown as I’ve ever read. My lord.”
Walker didn’t respond to the AP’s request for comment on the report.
And, as CNN’s Manu Raju, Alex Rogers and Mike Warren wrote that same month:
“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested to allies that former Georgia senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler should take another look at running again, according to three sources familiar with the matter, after their narrow losses in January flipped the Senate to Democratic control.”
Which brings us to Wednesday – and this from McConnell:
“I am happy to endorse Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate in Georgia. Herschel is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator Warnock, and help us take back the Senate. I look forward to working with Herschel in Washington to get the job done.”
So, what, exactly happened between August and today?
The key to answering that question is understanding what makes McConnell tick. He is the ultimate political pragmatist. He deals not in the world as he would like it to be but rather the world as it is. And he’s willing to make adjustments on the fly – if practicality dictates that he should.
The reality is that Walker has two things that make him nearly impossible to beat in a Republican primary at this moment in time:
1. His celebrity status
2. His strong endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
Up against those twin realities, it’s hard to imagine the likes of David Perdue or Kelly Loeffler being able to beat Walker in a primary. And there is even less of a chance that the other Republicans currently in the race – former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and Air Force veteran Kelvin King – might catch fire and unseat Walker.
What appears to have sealed the deal for McConnell though is the $3.7 million that Walker raised in his first month or so as an active candidate – with almost 50,000 donors from all 50 states.
Money talks for McConnell – as it suggests that Walker’s candidacy isn’t just some lark from a former pro athlete bored with his current life. Raising almost $4 million in a month suggests that Walker is not only serious but also has the support of people around the country for his campaign.
What about Trump’s near-constant attacks on McConnell – including referring to the Senate minority leader as the “most overrated man in politics?” McConnell is uniquely a) thick-skinned and b) relentlessly focused on winning back the Senate majority.
And so, McConnell endorses Walker. Not because all the worries about Walker’s past have disappeared (they haven’t and they won’t) but because McConnell knows that in order to retake the Senate majority next November, Republicans need Georgia. And he also knows that Walker is a dead lock for the Republican nomination.
So, why not get in the boat and help steer rather than looking for alternate, leakier boats?