Once upon a time, a conservative GOP candidate for U.S. Senator declared in a campaign ad that she was not a witch.
Unfortunately, that pronouncement’s veracity proved to be Christine O’Donnell’s highest qualification for office. Since she was also an apparent scofflaw, deadbeat, business failure, resume-padder, and Biden-level gaffe machine with zero experience either in elective politics or leading an organization.
And ultimately, a third-time statewide election loser, as her 2010 campaign sank like a millstone amid a genuine red wave.
Which wasn’t an entirely terrible thing – since she was the kind of politician who doesn’t belong within 100 miles of the Senate floor. Unfortunately for the Republicans – and the rest of America – the party fielded another such entrant in Georgia this year.
Now, it may seem elitist to view Herschel Walker and the hapless Ms. O’Donnell in such harsh light. Per the late senator Roman Hruska, debating an ill-considered High Court nomination: “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?”
Hruska-ism’s misapprehension: confusing elitism with expectation, and mere representation with leadership.
Put aside the “what-aboutism” inspired by early Keystone State voters who pushed a brain-damaged, bungling buffoon across the finish line ahead of a New Jersey mansion-owning, crudité-craving carpetbagger.
The people of Georgia – and America – are “entitled” to set the bar high for entry into the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. And have the right to expect leaders who can – wait for it – lead.
This commentator had the privilege of serving under and closely observing, as personal speechwriter, two such U.S. Senators: Iowa’s long-serving, legendary Charles Grassley and, albeit far too briefly, the late, great Orrin Hatch of Utah.
The qualities setting these solons apart? The sound judgment and intense discipline to employ limited time and resources productively in the face of almost unimaginable demands. The discernment required to balance solid ideological principles with independent reflection and healthy skepticism.
The intellectual depth and curiosity to stretch beyond parroting partisan talking points, engage in genuine thought leadership – and thereby, not just react and respond to circumstances but generate challenges to the status quo and shape events. And sufficient integrity to avoid being dogged, and ultimately dragged down, by repeated error or outright offenses.
Mr. Walker appears to be a sincere conservative and warm individual, and must be granted the benefit of the doubt as to life changes resulting from his born-again faith experience. Still, can anyone honestly imagine Mr. Walker exemplifying any, not to mention all, of the above-listed qualities of an effective Senator?
His athletic career was stellar; his path since less so. Both as the founder of reportedly overpromising, underdelivering enterprises and charitable endeavors and as a politician, the erstwhile Heisman winner has lurched from one charge of misrepresentation to another into a string of gaffes, personal issues, and revelations of scandals stretching longer than his Georgia Bulldog yardage records. And the likelihood of his contributing fresh perspectives to public discussions of hard issues appears as remote as that of completing multiple consecutive articulate sentences.
But wait: shouldn’t the GOP and “Right”-thinking partisans be willing to trade off elevated leadership expectations for the prospect of a solid conservative vote in the Senate, and a diverse one at that?
The answer on both counts is a resounding no. Elevating race absent qualifications is pure tokenism. And settling for an unqualified candidate to ostensibly lock down a conservative vote is an utterly false, fool’s-gold bargain.
For a slam-dunk demonstration of the prodigious perils and potentially calamitous costs of trading off qualifications for seeming electoral advantage, one need look no further than the current occupants – or as this correspondent prefers, usurpers – of the highest offices of the land.
Mr. Walker echoes Plagiarizing Joe’s and Cackling Kamala’s exaggerated, often fantastical claims, born of the low self-esteem common to mediocre talents attempting to keep pace with the best and the brightest. Consider his representations as to his class ranks, his firm’s employment and charitable records, and his law enforcement credentials. Compare them to Ms. Harris’s reveries of “fweedom”-clamoring toddlerhood and weed-wafting, Snoop-and-Tupac-savoring college days.
And both are mere pikers compared to Plagiarizing Joe’s inventions regarding his family background, law-school standing, faux professorships, Corn Pop confrontations, foreign-arrest records and so much more.
Far more serious, however, are the political implications. Lacking independent intellectual throw-weight and policymaking range, both the enfeebled “moderate” Chief Executive and with him, the formerly tough cop wannaveep, mortgaged their futures and ours to their party’s radical progressive wing, with predictable and tragic results.
Similarly, the Georgian was likely weighted down in his campaign by his close association with the MAGA bloc’s worst excesses. Yet picture six years, had he been elected, of further misplaced loyalties, misadventures, and misstatements, now paired with policy missteps under pressure, until one last straw broke the entire party’s back, Todd Akin-style.
It is possible, nay, it is to be demanded, that conservative leaders rise above the Christine O’Donnell factor to meet the standards both of fealty to principle and excellence in stature and savvy. Absent such demands, the MAGA cause will be brought down just as surely as the Tea Party movement that preceded and had much in common with it.
Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist, and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at email@example.com.