Ask any football fan about the worst trades in NFL history and the one player they will all mention is Herschel Walker.
Back in 1989 the Dallas Cowboys traded their star running back to the Minnesota Vikings for five players and six draft picks, an unprecedented haul that Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson later described as “the great train robbery.” The Cowboys used those picks to draft Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and a bunch of other key cogs for the budding dynasty that would dominate the NFL for much of my childhood. For the Vikings on the other hand…well they haven’t been to the big game since 1977.
So you might say that being on the losing end of a swap is something Herschel knows a little bit about.
That’s going to be relevant experience for him, because 30 years after Jimmy J’s big heist, Herschel finds himself as a key player on the losing end of the political trade that turned Georgia—home to his alma mater and site of a potential run for either Senate or governor—into a blue state. In addition to being the answer to an NFL trivia question, Walker is now a card-carrying Trumper. And also a real-world celebrity. Or rather, as close to a “real-world celebrity” as exists in the jackleg MAGA world where Scott Baio and Kevin Sorbo are part of the A-list. Walker even has celebrity progeny: A son who is—I shit you not—a gay, anti-BLM, pro-Trump, TikTok sensation.
If Walker’s rumored foray into the political arena comes to pass, he and his kiddo will be carrying the conspiracy mongering, lib-owning, and culture warring mindset of MAGA converts into the same terrain where such lunacy led to both the defeat of Donald Trump and the end of the GOP Senate majority just a few months ago.
Buckle up. We’re on the fast train, honey.
In 2014 (BT) Georgia Republicans were living high on the hog, nominating your median white male bubba Republicans for every statewide office—and winning handily. That year David Perdue beat Michelle Nunn—a moderate Democratic opponent widely thought to be a comer—by nearly 8 points. Nathan Deal won the governorship by about the same margin over Jimmy Carter’s grandson. And all the statewide offices went to Republicans as well, including future governor Brian Kemp as secretary of State.
None of these politicians were doing anything particularly groundbreaking electorally speaking. Nor did they have any special political talents. Some were a little more Tea Party, others a little more establishmenty, but taken together they would’ve been right in the middle of the vanilla bell curve at a national GOP convention.
Then Donald Trump and Stacey Abrams came along and things began to change.
The Trump-era supercharged the ongoing demographic shifts in both parties, turning a lot of suburban Atlanta’s college-educated Republican types into Red Dog Democrats. After that the Democratic base grew even more as a result of the one-woman voter registration operation that sprouted from Abrams narrow defeat in 2018 at the hands of Brian Kemp.
Then, following his November defeat, Donald Trump turned Georgia into ground zero for his coup attempt, which divided the party, endangered local election officials, depressed turnout among his own supporters, cost David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler their run-off elections, and turned Cocaine Mitch into a sad-turtle minority leader who lives in fear of Josh Hawley giving him a wedgie.
After a catastrophe that epic, you might think that the logical move would be for Georgia Republicans to go back to what had worked so well: Nominate inoffensive, anti-coup, Mendoza Line guys in khakis, leave the Butterscotch Beelzebub in the rear-view, and win back enough Red Dogs to reassert themselves electorally. But nah, these dawgs are gluttons for punishment.
Enter Herschel Walker.
Walker currently lives in Texas, but is thought of as a Georgia candidate thanks to his heyday between the hedges. The Trump family wants revenge against Georgia’s Republican political establishment and see Walker as their prime recruit. And, God bless ‘em, the Republican consultant/media complex is getting on board, too.
Reading about Walker, you will see what the Trump family likes about him (spoiler: he’s a Trump suck up). What’s less clear is why Georgia Republicans would want to bring the Walker Texa(n)’s drama to the Peach State.
In a 2008 interview with Nightline, Herschel wanted to tell the world “my truth.” (He was ahead of the game in the now omnipresent cultural distinction between “the truth” and “my truth” so, points for that I guess?)
Part of his truth was that he had been diagnosed with a rare mental illness called “dissociative identity disorder” or D.I.D., which is colloquially known as “multiple personality disorder.”
While some of his work with the Patriot Support Program and others to destigmatize the disease is laudatory, the “darker behavior” that he attributes to this problem is rather shocking.
In the 2008 interview his ex-wife said “we were talking and the next thing I knew he just kind of raged and he got a gun and put it to my temple.” She later attributed it to one of Walker’s alternate personalities saying, “there was somebody there that was evil.” Walker subsequently “threatened to kill his wife, his wife’s friend, and his therapist” in a therapy session.
In 2015 Walker told ESPN that he used to play “Russian Roulette” when guests came to his home. He described these encounters as part of a test of wills, where he would demand that anyone who wanted to challenge him in an athletic endeavor first demonstrate their strength by participating.
So I take a bullet, put it in the cylinder, spin it and tell you to pull it. People would say “Herschel, you’re nuts.” I would take that gun, put it to my head, and snap it. That is what it was. I was so fired up that I could overcome anything.
Walker survived the gamble of performative self-harm and he went on to do a series of interviews discussing them during his various post-football promotional endeavors. “Russian Roulette In Front of House Guests” became, along with “worst trade in NFL history,” part of his brand identity.
After his book tour in 2008, Walker became a contestant on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice reality show where he “finished” a gentleman’s 7th place—behind Joan and Melissa Rivers, but ahead of Khloe Kardashian. The judges felt like his orange chicken with a yogurt dessert was not suitable for the frozen food category. It probably says something that Walker’s self-described competitive streak did not seem to engender any bitterness towards the man who fired him in week nine of the show.
Walker then tried his hand at MMA where he was more successful, finishing 2-0 before determining that he was aging out of a young man’s game.
A few years after that Walker reconnected with Trump and began to show a real interest in politics.
Walker’s political ideology is somewhat muddled, but the through line that connects it all is his willingness to partake in any conspiracy theory that bubbles up from the MAGA internet.
In October of 2020, many months after Obama began campaigning for Biden, Walker suggested that Obama had delayed doing so because he might be privy to unspecified information about “O’Biden’s son” and “he may have known about it, knew it wasn’t right. And, uh, who knows?”
Who does know?! Not Herschel.
He also proposed a complex theory in which the Communist Party of China funded the Black Lives Matter movement, which in turn funded the Democratic party.
“Why does it seem like I’m the only one that’s coming up with this? Just think about it,” he said.
[Chin Scratch Emoji]
Walker was, of course, early to the #StopTheSteal conspiracy, proposing in the weeks before the election that Biden had already admitted to fraud and suggesting that maybe Obama had cheated in his victories, too.
After the election, Walker, like many other consumers of MAGA media, became increasingly unhinged and radicalized—I understand this might not seem possible. But in this he was egged on by his increasingly visible son, Christian.
To fully understand the extent to which Herschel has internalized the messaging from the dregs of the Parlerified pro-Trump internet, you have to understand his gay, 21-year-old son, Christian, who—prior to becoming a content creator extraordinaire—was a competitive cheerleader.
(I want to break the fourth wall and offer, as a personal aside, that it’s pretty cool for a guy like Herschel to be so supportive of his cheer-squad son. I hope other MAGA dads get some cheerspiration from him on this count. . .)
Christian went on to become a star of the online right during the 2020 campaign, garnering over 400,000 followers on TikTok and 125,000 on Twitter with his sassy, contrarian rants.
Among his first viral hits was a harangue against Joe Biden over the “you ain’t black” gaffe, which Christian marked with the hashtag #JoeBidenIsARacist.
By September he had inhabited all of the trolly bad faith attacks that were popular in pro-Trump internet circles but which you likely would have had no familiarity with if you weren’t an extremely online MAGA.
For instance, Christian crams all of the following conspiracies into one 35 second clip: “Jim Crow” Joe Biden is a “drug addict” because he is “refusing a drug test,” he was demanding breaks every 30 minutes to get his diaper changed or sniff a child backstage, and that his press secretary was talking in his ear during debates. He goes on to call Biden a dementia patient, an elderly patient (?), and an unstable man. Which is a little weird since (a) Joe Biden has never copped to playing Russian Roulette or putting a gun to his wife’s head and (b) presumably the Walkers would tell you that being mentally unstable should not be disqualifying for high office.
As the campaign wore on Christian dedicated his feed to insane anti-Biden rants, condemning Black Lives Matter, and insisting that marginalized communities should stop complaining and be more positive about their opportunities. Like he was. During this time he honed his messaging, became ensconced in the MAGA web, and saw his online follower count skyrocket. As Christian’s commitment to the bit solidified, so did his dad’s ability to communicate in TheDonaldeeze.
Like many of their compatriots, the Walkers were undeterred by Trump’s loss.
On November 21, Herschel claimed that some of our elected officials knew about the fantastical “Dominion fraud” and that, as a result, they might end up in jail. The next day Herschel sent two tweets about his faith in Sidney Powell, saying that doubters “will be shocked” when Powell “lays the SMACKDOWN.”
Later that day he announced that he was moving over to the greener pastures of Parler, @HerschelWalker34.
In December the Walkers visited with Maria Bartiromo about the state of affairs. Herschel lamented that his son’s first time voting had been tainted by (imaginary) voter fraud and demanded that people go to jail for . . . whatever. He went on to say that punishing the “bad players” who committed the fraud was the “only way you can make this country free.” He then ranted about how Trump needs to stay in power to punish the people who “have done the bad things.”
I think this president is going to bring law and order back to this country that’s the way we can get back to the country we used to be, the United States of America that believes in law and order and you got to send people to jail that have done the bad things. And I hate to say it, I don’t care where you’re from, whether you’re in Washington or whether you’re from the smallest town in the United States of America. If you’ve done something wrong, you need to go to jail and just know you’re going to get a knock at your door and I think that’s the only way you can solve this.
In the middle of Herschel demanding that the defeated president stay in power against the will of the people and jail his political enemies, Bartiromo interjected to compliment Christian on his Instagram posts raising awareness about the upcoming January 6 election certification. Christian and Bartiromo then agree that the election was “far from over.” (Reminder: At the time of this interview the election had been over for six weeks.)
Herschel and Christian continued to bang the drum about fraud all the way up through Insurrection Day. In one of the many…many…tweets Christian sent about election fraud in January, he declared that to get a fair vote in Georgia, someone should “throw Stacey Abrams a bucket of Popeyes fried chicken to distract her.”
On January 4, Herschel praised Lin Wood and said “America needs a total cleansing only Donald Trump can do with the help of TRUE PATRIOTS…Whatever it takes to get the job done.” Two days later when those true patriots went to the Capitol to get the job done, Herschel tweeted that they were “trojan horses.” Then he went dark on the platform for a month.
Sitting in sunny California, Christian was more clear-eyed about the patriots that he and his father had helped inspire.
Expect more of this?
Neither the revelations that the domestic terrorists in the Capitol were in fact Trump supporters, nor the fact that his son called for additional attacks, caused Herschel to change his tune. And he clearly hasn’t encouraged his son to log-off or dial back the rhetoric.
Just this week he retweeted Christian multiple times. In one instance he was calling people who support tax hikes “ghetto,” “jealous,” and “gross” and in another he claimed that people who are using the eviction moratorium during the pandemic are simultaneously buying Gucci bags or Louis Vuitton shoes with the checks from the Biden recovery bill.
In other words, when it comes to a Walker campaign: “Expect more of this.”
And for the MAGA consultants, pundits, and voters, “more of this” is exactly what they are looking for. They aren’t looking to go back to the old days where they won elections. That’s not what this is about. As long as their candidate allows them to dominate the GOP and own the libs on social media, that’s a trade that works for them.
So if Herschel wants a Republican nomination of some sort, he’ll probably get it.
And for anyone trying to analyze to what extent Herschel actually believes the stuff his son injects into dad’s Twitter feed? Well, Herschel already answered that for us when he told other former NFL players to stop using concussions as an excuse for their behavior.
“We’re all crazy in some sense and everybody tries to throw solutions at things. But what if it’s just that you’re bad,” Walker said.
Gunner Ramer contributed to this report.