Character doesn’t count.
That’s the only conclusion to be drawn from today’s cutthroat politics.
The statement seems perplexing on its face. Of course character must count! Don’t all candidates, at every level, try to convince voters that they are people of integrity who share their values?
Now that matters a whole lot less than it did a decade ago. Now what matters is winning, period.
Both sides are so convinced that the country would be doomed if the other side seizes or maintains power that everything hinges on victory. If that means ignoring, minimizing or rationalizing their nominee’s manifest flaws, so be it.
I’m talking here about the Herschel Walker accusations, but the roots of this mentality go back decades.
Americans elected Bill Clinton despite knowing about his draft avoidance and Gennifer Flowers affair allegation (which he lied about). And while many Democrats criticized his personal conduct with Monica Lewinsky (which he also lied about), they said he shouldn’t be impeached – and Clinton emerged fairly popular.
George W. Bush ran as someone who had beaten alcohol abuse at age 40 – and a final-weekend disclosure of a DWI didn’t stop him from taking the White House.
And then there was Donald Trump, who won the presidency although everyone knew he’d had affairs during earlier marriages, beyond a slew of new allegations from women, and whose “grab ’em” talk was revealed by the “Access Hollywood” tape.
So Americans don’t expect their politicians to be perfect. Uh, Anthony Weiner somehow thought it was a good idea to run for mayor after his sexting scandal, and Eliot Spitzer ran for New York City comptroller after resigning as governor for patronizing prostitutes. Both Democrats got clobbered.
But Republican Mark Sanford won a congressional seat in South Carolina after “hiking the Appalachian trail” as governor (to cover an affair with an Argentinian woman) and fending off an impeachment attempt. And Democrat Gavin Newsom won the California governorship years after acknowledging an affair with a staffer who was the wife of his close friend and campaign manager.
Most paid a price. Back in 2012, Missouri GOP congressman Todd Akin, running for the Senate, was asked about abortion and rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said.
There was a national uproar, and the comment sunk Akin’s candidacy.
In the case of Georgia Senate nominee Herschel Walker, his denial of a Daily Beast report that he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion more than a decade ago is not terribly convincing.
While Walker, who wants a total ban on abortion, calls the allegation a “flat-out lie,” the Beast has a copy of his $700 check to the unnamed accuser, a get well card from him and the woman’s $575 receipt from an abortion clinic. Asked about the check by Fox’s Sean Hannity, the former football star said: “I send money to a lot of people… I believe in being generous.”
Walker, who has admitted to severe mental health problems and had not acknowledged several of his children, now faces fierce criticism from his son Christian. The 23 year old accuses him of lying, not raising his children and making violent threats against the family – echoing allegations from his mother.
But the Republican Party has largely closed ranks behind Walker.
Trump declared that “Herschel Walker is being slandered and maligned by the Fake News Media and obviously, the Democrats.” Without addressing any specifics, Trump said he has “no doubt” of Walker’s denial, adding: “They are trying to destroy a man who has true greatness in his future, just as he had athletic greatness in his past.”
Conservative radio host Dana Loesch said on her podcast that she doesn’t care about the abortion payment allegation:
“I want control of the Senate. If the Daily Beast story is true, you’re telling me Walker used his money to reportedly pay some skank for an abortion? And Warnock wants to use all of our monies to pay a whole bunch of skanks for abortions.”
Conservative Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen said the allegation “won’t faze Republicans… The choice between Warnock and Walker isn’t a hard one for Republicans or pro-lifers. Warnock is a solidly progressive Democrat who has largely backed his party’s agenda. That’s disqualifying for any partisan Republican.”
And there you have it, an updated version of Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
Once you go there – that personal misconduct doesn’t matter – you’re in Trump’s “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” territory. If you lied, cheated, robbed a bank, it can be buried or dismissed if that helps your team at election time.
Character? That’s for wimps.
But I have to raise one other point, which is whether only one party is drawing media scrutiny. Trump said he’d heard “horrible” things about Raphael Warnock.
In an incident that surfaced in the last campaign, the senator’s ex-wife accused him of running over her foot with a car during a dispute (medical officials found no injuries). In a court filing related to custody earlier this year, she accused Warnock of leaving her “financially strapped” by refusing to reimburse her for child care expenses.
That led one Warnock critic to recount the allegations in an online ad last month, saying: “We see him on TV, but what is he really hiding?”
That critic was Herschel Walker.