By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
You have to give Donald Trump credit for one thing—he showed the Republican Party the way. He led them to water, and oh brother, how they drink!
With the Senate divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, and the Democrats holding the majority only because the Vice President can break ties, the 2022 election will be fiercely fought by both parties. For the Republicans, anything goes. If they think it will gain them control of the Senate, they will back an assortment of madmen, extremists and rogues. Here are three examples of the low caliber of candidates they are offering:
In Georgia: The Madman—Herschel Walker
Raphael Warnock’s win in a special election, and Jon Ossoff’s win in a run-off election, both held in Georgia on January 5, 2021, provided the Democrats their sliver of a Senate majority. In only a year, Warnock has already shown himself to be an impressive force in the Senate. But because his seat was won in a special election to replace a retiring senator, he must defend his seat this year.
Senator Warnock is Black, and it appears that Republicans think all they must do to win is pick a Black candidate to run against him—one who meets with Trump’s approval, of course. So, meet Herschel Walker—Trump’s pick to oppose Warnock.
Walker’s paltry (poultry?) qualifications:
He was a football hero at the University of Georgia, followed by a career in the NFL. He owns a business whose chicken products are distributed across the country.
Walker was a contestant in the second season of Trump’s reality show, The Celebrity Apprentice, was appointed by Trump to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, and acted as honorary co-chair of the Senate campaign of Kelly Loeffler—the candidate Warnock beat.
Walker has parroted Trump’s every party line, spreading the various conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election results, calling for re-votes in seven states, and suggesting that the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol was committed to distract from election fraud.
Walker has also, Trump-like, seemingly made huge overstatements about his business record, claiming his company employs hundreds of people and that he has a chicken processing division in Arkansas with $70-80 million in annual gross sales. But Walker reported only eight employees when applying for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan. Furthermore, his business associates testified in a court case that Walker does not own chicken processing plants but is a licensing partner who lends his name to the enterprise. Sounds like he and Trump are birds of a feather.
Walker also inflated his biography, claiming that he graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and he has been introduced as having this degree at various Republican events.
After the Atlanta-Journal Constitution exposed this as untrue in December 2021, Walker made a lame excuse: “I was majoring in Criminal Justice at UGA when I left to play in the USFL [a professional football league]. After playing with the New Jersey Generals, I returned to Athens to complete my degree, but life and football got in the way.”
That, of course, is no excuse for lying about it, unless you’re a Trump protégée.
The icing on the cake: Walker claims to have dissociative identity disorder, a rare condition the National Alliance on Mental Illness describes as: “alternating between multiple identities,”—in popular parlance, multiple personalities.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, this disorder leaves a person with “gaps in memory of everyday events,” and men with the disorder “exhibit more violent behavior rather than amnesia.” Walker has claimed to exhibit both.
According to Bethany Brand, a clinical psychologist and professor at Towson University, who helped write guidelines for diagnosing the disorder, the condition requires a very intensive treatment. She told AP, “They are often quite symptomatic and can relapse, even after a successful course of treatment, if they are under enough stress.”
In his 2008 book, Breaking Free, Walker wrote that he was dealing with as many as a dozen personalities that he had constructed as a defense against childhood bullying. He said he had been diagnosed in 2001. But the diagnosis was rendered by Jerry Mungadze, a counselor holding only a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education, who offers himself as an expert in treating dissociative identity disorder. According to AP, experts in the field consider Mungadze’s practices outside the mainstream. These practices include concluding, based on the colors patients use to color in a drawing of the brain, whether someone has been “demonized.”
In 2002, Walker’s wife of 19 years, divorced him, citing “physically abusive and extremely threatening behavior.” When his book was later released, she told ABC he had pointed a pistol at her head and said, “I’m going to blow your f’ing brains out.”
In 2005, he was served with a restraining order when his ex-wife’s sister swore in an affidavit that Walker had told her he was going to shoot his ex-wife and her boyfriend in the head—à la O.J. Simpson. Fortunately, in Walker’s instance, a judge issued a temporary gun-owning ban against him.
Walker claimed he has good alternative personalities but also violent ones. He has blamed his brutal behavior towards his wife and others on those violent alternate personalities. Maybe O.J. should have tried that defense.
Most people who suffer from mental illness harm no one except, perhaps—depending on the nature of the illness—themselves. The difficulties they struggle with—even multiple personalities—should not be used to prevent them from living their lives and following their dreams. At the same time, even if we take Walker at his word, how would voters know which of the persons who inhabit him they were voting for? Or what that personality stands for? Let alone which of them would turn up in the Senate if he won?
Herschel Walker is just the kind of candidate Trump--the man who thinks he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it—would endorse. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator John Thune both also endorsed Walker in October, even after concerns surfaced about his history of domestic violence. One must ask, is there no depth to which the Republican leadership will not sink? No danger to which they will refuse to subject the nation so long as it gains them power?
If voter sanity prevails, Senator Warnock should win re-election. But will sanity prevail? At the moment, the two candidates are running neck-and-neck in the polls.
In Wisconsin: The Extremist—Ron Johnson
“Ron Johnson is what you get when QAnon and the Tea Party have a baby.” That’s the view of Wisconsin Democratic consultant Ben Nuckels as expressed to The Guardian.
Johnson arrived in the Senate after defeating Democratic Senator Russ Feingold in 2010. He’s served two terms and is running for a third. Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, one of the Democrats eyeing a candidacy, told The New Republic that Johnson used to be viewed as a “Chamber of Commerce Republican who was good on the deficit, wanted low taxes—a business guy. But Lasry added: “Trump brought out his true colors.”
According to the New York Times, Johnson has acknowledged that he “did kind of spring out of the Tea Party,” though he did not join the Tea Party Caucus. Since the advent of Trump, Johnson has promoted all the usual Trumpisms, including election fraud and rejection of scientific findings on climate change. In 2020, he used his position as chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee to launch investigations of former president Donald Trump’s opponents, including Joe Biden, and he has disseminated disinformation about Covid-19 vaccinations.
After the January 6 insurrection, Johnson claimed that Black Lives Matter protesters would have scared him, but Trump’s mob did not. Johnson told a local radio host: “Even though those thousands of people that were marching to the Capitol were trying to pressure people like me to vote the way they wanted me to vote, I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, and so I wasn’t concerned.” He also suggested that the attack was instigated by “fake Trump protesters,” and questioned whether the FBI withheld information ahead of the attack. And of course, he voted to acquit Trump in the second impeachment trial.
These statements and actions place Ron Johnson squarely in favor of the overthrow of democracy and make him fully complicit with the Trumpists’ efforts to rewrite the events of January 6.
In the coming election, Johnson has the advantage of being the incumbent senator. On the other hand, it is thought that his current extremism may not be popular in his state.
Of four serious contenders for the Democratic nomination, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, the first Black lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, is the frontrunner. He has collected endorsements from Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, as well as House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. And according to BuzzFeed, a November poll of Wisconsin’s likely voters conducted by the progressive think tank Data for Progress showed Barnes leading over the closest competitor by 23 points. (Although 29% also said they weren’t sure who they would vote for if the primary were held the next day.)
According to BuzzFeed, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) has not endorsed any candidate yet but is making Wisconsin part of its “Defend the Majority” program, a $30 million investment targeting nine states and aimed at ground field organizing. And Wisconsin Democratic Chair Ben Wikler told The New Republic, “We’re doing year-round voter protection work, year-round organizing work with the year-round coalitions team.”
Based on a Morning Consult poll, Johnson had only a 36 percent approval rating among registered Wisconsin voters at the end of 2021. And with the hateful undemocratic garbage coming out of his mouth, his promotion of reactionary policies—and the Democratic organizing work being done, Wisconsin Democrats should be motivated to turn out to vote. Of course, they will still have to overcome Republican manipulation of election administration in their state.
In Pennsylvania: The Rogue—Dr. Mehmet Oz
Republican Senator Pat Toomey is retiring, leaving Pennsylvania’s 2022 race for his seat wide open for both right-wing Republicans and progressive Democrats.
The candidacy of Donald Trump’s endorsed favorite for Toomey’s seat, Army Ranger Sean Parnell, has imploded. Parnell dropped out of the race in November after losing a combative custody battle that involved serious accusations of domestic abuse.
There are 12 hopefuls remaining in the crowded field of possible Republican candidates. Trump has not said whether he will endorse any of them. And according to Reuters, the Pennsylvania Republicans have decided not to endorse a primary candidate for fear of making a choice that would offend Trump.
But one of the 12—Dr. Mehmet Oz—has the greatest name recognition. A cardio-thoracic surgeon at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan, Oz became a celebrity as a regular contributor and guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. His appearances there served as a springboard to his own show produced by Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. He used his show not only to give medical advice on various subjects—but also to irresponsibly hawk questionable weight-loss aids and so-called miracle cures.
Oprah Winfrey’s reaction to Oz’s candidacy, delivered to New York Magazine. was non-committal: "One of the great things about our democracy is that every citizen can decide to run for public office." Her spokesperson, Nicole Nichols, said, "Mehmet Oz has made that decision. And now it’s up to the residents of Pennsylvania to decide who will represent them."
Of course, it’s not even clear whether Oz lives in Pennsylvania and is thus qualified to run for senator there. He has been living in New Jersey and used the address of a home owned by his mother-in-law to become a registered Pennsylvania voter. Does he actually live at that address?
Not that the residency question would deter Republicans from nominating him. Sam DeMarco III, the Republican chairman of Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, has weighed in, telling the New York Times, “My most important goal is to keep this seat in Republican hands come 2022, and I believe Dr. Oz’s entry into the race gives us a significant opportunity to do that.”
Certainly, Trump should have little reason to fault that choice. After all, Dr. Oz hosted Trump on his TV show in 2016, was later named by Trump to a White House advisory council on sports and nutrition, and has been faithfully promoting much of Trump’s party line.
As a doctor with a respected institution like Columbia University, Dr. Oz should feel a duty to speak responsibly on medical issues. Instead, according to the New York Times, in March of 2020, Dr. Oz promoted hydroxychloroquine to fight the coronavirus despite the warnings by researchers at the time that the drug was unproven. And in April 2020, referencing a medical journal, Dr. Oz proclaimed that opening schools “may only cost us 2 to 3 percent in terms of total mortality” and “it might be a tradeoff some folks would consider.” After accusations that he was using his fame to promote misinformation, Oz backtracked, tweeting that he had “misspoke.”
Oz announced his candidacy on November 30, 2021, in the ultra-conservative Washington Examiner, writing that the pandemic “became an excuse for the government and elite thinkers...to suspend debate. Dissenting opinions from leading scholars were ridiculed and canceled so their ideas could not be disseminated…And the arrogant, close-minded people in charge closed our parks, shuttered our schools, shut down our businesses, and took away our freedom.”
Further displaying his mastery of Republican techniques for projecting their own motives and actions onto their opponents, Oz also wrote: “We must confront those who want to change the very soul of America and reimagine it with their toxic ideology.”
The Democrats also have seven hopefuls for the primary but, at the moment, only two serious contenders.
Lt. Governor John Fetterman, currently the front runner, bills himself as a progressive whose positions on economic justice will appeal to blue collar workers.
U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, perceived as a moderate, promises to fight for increased wages, access to health care, and retirement benefits. Lamb gained national notice for his strongly worded rebuke on the House floor of the Republicans’ lies about the January insurrection and the presidential election.
According to Politico, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said that both Fetterman and Lamb are strong candidates, and so he does not expect the DSCC to get involved in the primary.
Walker, Johnson, and Oz are but three of the extreme candidates the Republicans are fielding nationwide. And though it appears that state Democratic parties are taking this challenge to democracy seriously, a sane outcome is not guaranteed. I live in the District of Columbia where we are not given the opportunity to select a senator, let alone two. So those of you who have that privilege: pay attention. Educate yourselves as to all candidates running—not only for Senate—but for all offices in your state. Get involved if you can. But above all—VOTE! Vote in the primaries. And vote in your election. It may be fun to watch old films of the Three Stooges, but do we really want them running America?
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.