Will former President Donald Trump, who announced yet another run for the White House earlier this week, campaign for GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker in Georgia?
If many Peach State Republicans had their way, the answer would be no.
“By announcing his next presidential campaign before the dust has settled on 2022, Donald Trump has the ability to cost Georgia a third Senate race in less than two years,” outgoing Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, told Yahoo News in an email. “His conspiracy theories, and the candidates who carried them, were rejected soundly at the ballot box last week. … The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”
Duncan is not alone. Atlanta-based GOP strategist Brian Robinson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it’s best for the 2024 cycle to start after the 2022 midterm cycle is complete, “which isn’t over until Georgia says it is.”
“The Republicans’ best chance is to keep this a referendum on Joe Biden’s record — a message that Herschel has stuck to with discipline,” Robinson said.
But Trump’s announcement, Republicans fear, complicates that strategy. “I really wish that he had waited until after this runoff was over before announcing,” former Cobb County GOP Chair Jason Shepherd told Politico. “There’s really no reason he had to get out this early, especially with the focus being on Georgia.”
Fresh off a disappointing election that saw them fail to retake the Senate and only narrowly secure the House, Republicans worry that Trump’s candidacy has stolen the spotlight from Walker, a former University of Georgia football hero. Walker is facing Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in a Dec. 6 runoff election — the last major contest of the 2022 midterms.
“The 2022 midterms are not over and anything that takes away the ability to fundraise, to get the message out there, to keep the media and the journalists focused on this race, is bad for the Republican Party as a whole,” one Republican strategist told The Hill.
Trump announced his candidacy on Tuesday despite warnings from allies that he could drag down Walker. “Everything over this next month is about Herschel Walker and making sure we get the win there,” Jason Miller, a former Trump White House aide, told Newsmax last week, adding that “priorities A, B and C need to be about Herschel right now.”
And Cole Muzio, president of the Georgia-based conservative political advocacy group Frontline Policy Council, told the New York Times that he believes Trump “should stay” at his Florida residence until after the runoff.
Many Republicans blame Trump for the GOP’s inability to take control of Congress this month. The former president threw his weight behind a number of candidates this year who either underperformed compared with other Republicans on the ballot or outright lost their races to Democrats. An analysis by Philip Wallach of the conservative American Enterprise Institute calculated that this “Trump penalty” cost the GOP at least five winnable House races.
For his part, Trump complimented Walker on Tuesday, calling him “an incredible athlete” who will be “an even better senator.”
“Get out and vote for Herschel Walker,” he said.
But at a campaign stop on Wednesday, Walker kept his distance from Trump and made no mention of the former president.
Warnock’s campaign, however, on Thursday released a new 30-second ad almost entirely playing Trump’s praise of Walker from Tuesday, in essence affixing the two together, with a note at the end: “Stop Donald Trump. Stop Herschel Walker.”
Democrats currently have a majority in the Senate only due to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. But if Walker loses, they’ll have 51 seats in the chamber, giving Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer more room to maneuver around moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who have been known to break ranks with the rest of the caucus.
Political analyst Rick Mullaney told News4Jax that by getting anywhere close to Walker’s campaign, Trump could sink his chances of winning.
“For Herschel Walker, it may not be ideal,” Mullaney said. “For the Republican Party, it may not be ideal, but make no mistake, this race is very important. There’s a big difference between a 50/50 tie and 51/49.”
Trump has a mixed track record when it comes to elections in Georgia. In 2020, he became the first GOP presidential candidate to lose the state in nearly 30 years. He then baselessly blamed his defeat on voter fraud and essentially encouraged his supporters to sit out the 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs, which were then won by Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff.
The former president also has a tumultuous relationship with Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who rejected Trump’s stolen election claims. And an October Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed 52% of likely Georgia voters disapprove of Trump, including 15% of Republicans and 80% of independents.
Cover thumbnail photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images