Herschel Walker and Sarah Palin: Two Sides of the Same Republican Coin

4 mins read

No doubt like many of you, I’ve been thinking about the relevance of Herschel Walker’s defeat at the hands of Reverend Raphael Warnock to future political campaigns. Suddenly, it hit me: think about the similarity in the candidacies of Herschel Walker and Sarah Palin. Over an almost 20-year period since Palin’s 2008 run for vice president, the Republican Party has deployed a deeply cynical, fundamentally racist and sexist strategy: running candidates for high office who are members of marginalized groups, aiming to hoodwink voters into thinking these choices must be good ones (otherwise, we wouldn’t have picked them).

As is self-evident, neither Walker nor Palin personify a commitment to diversity or equal representation in government or politics. Instead, Walker and Palin and their candidacies embody the Republican Party’s dedication to gaslighting, made even worse by their selection of candidates whose lack of knowledge and relevant experience make them completely unfit for the offices sought.

Happily, legions of terrific organizers saved the day for Warnock. According to one analysis I read: “there were 4+ million doors knocked in the last two weeks and 6,000 canvassers on Election Day.”

Yet, the majority of white voters still chose Herschel Walker.

Consider the hope so many of us had that, finally, such voters would come to their senses and realize that the Republicans were toying with them. That they would judge Walker: “by the content of his character,” and, therefore, vote against him.

Think about the Warnock-Walker outcome this way: if such votes were primarily propelled by racism, they wouldn’t have voted for Walker (or for Warnock). The Republicans’ gaslighting worked.

What we should take from this outcome is that our opposition nearly succeeds when it plays the race card. Yet it’s not enough that Walker lost; much more is at stake than his relevance. Is there a way to defeat this Republican strategy, once and for all?

That way is premised on accepting these facts:

  • In one election after another, Black voters are the foundation for Democratic victories. (But, frequently, they aren’t numerous enough for the win.)
  • White male voters remain only marginally attainable by Democratic candidates. 
  • The route to victories like Warnock’s lies with converting enough white women voters to the Democratic side. (More likely to vote for Democrats than white men; vitally concerned about women’s access to abortion; they know they lose so much when Republicans prevail. The post-Dobbs referenda victories evidence this truth.)
  • National Democratic victories are contingent upon winning states with large female and diverse populations and, consequently, many electoral votes.
  • But let’s start every future campaign by calling out the Republican’s reprehensible political cynicism, declaring that we will condemn it at every turn. For, as we learned in Georgia in 2022, and in the entire United States in 2008, voters will reject it, if we fight hard enough and loudly enough for the truth to out. 

In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate the birthday of another Georgian: Martin Luther King. Many will reference his “I Have a Dream” speech. It goes like this:

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. ... Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.”

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Rebecca Sive is the author of three books on women’s politics and power; a motivational speaker; a former professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago as well as statewide governmental official; and the recipient of numerous awards for her public leadership and service. She co-produced and co-hosted the widely praised podcast, #VoteHerIn, aired as part of the Demcast network. Learn more about her here: www.rebeccasive.com, and feel free to contact her here, rebecca@rebeccasive.com, about speaking engagements, writing, and her strategic counsel to women public leaders.

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