Raphael Warnock’s election victory spells disaster for the Republican Party

Voters, it turns out, do still care about a candidate's character

Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock arrives at the Capitol after defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a run-off election in Georgia. AP
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Georgia's run-off election hammered another nail into Donald Trump’s political coffin and spells big trouble for the Republican Party as a whole.

The victory of incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock over Trump-backed Herschel Walker highlights once more how an endorsement from the former president can be an electoral kiss of death. More alarmingly for the Republicans, it also shows that a critical mass of American voters care about a candidate's character.

Republican victory in the conservative southern state should have been a straightforward proposition. Prices are soaring for just about everything, the US economy is looking shakier by the day and President Joe Biden's popularity remains stuck in the doldrums.

Instead of picking a savvy political player who could capitalise on these concerns, Republicans in Georgia's primary went along with Mr Trump's endorsement and chose Mr Walker, a retired American football player, to run for a closely contested senate seat in a critically important election.

Mr Walker's deeply troubled personal history and his flaws as a father and partner should have disqualified him from even being considered as a candidate.

To recap just some of the lowlights: the anti-abortion candidate reportedly paid for former girlfriends to have their pregnancies terminated, a claim he denies; he railed against absentee dads before acknowledging as a candidate that he had three children out of wedlock; and according to his ex-wife, he threatened to kill her and put a gun to her head in an incident he said “probably” happened but that he didn't recall.

Georgia run-off election — in pictures

None of it mattered to the luminaries of the Republican Party, who rallied around Mr Walker once he won the primary. It should have been an awkward moment for a party that historically claimed probity and a moral upper hand when it comes to matters such as marital fidelity and sexual impropriety.

Their logic was simple: in polarised America, a candidate's character matters not, as long as they are on your team. Their leader Mr Trump, who allegedly had several extramarital affairs and has faced a number of allegations of sexual assault, claims he vigorously denies, is a case in point.

The sentiment was articulated well by conservative radio host Dana Loesch, who said: “I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.”

It was an unfortunate image for America's national bird and one that misjudged the mood. Voters, it turns out, do still care about a candidate's character.

A similar saga played out in the senate race in Pennsylvania, where Republican Mehmet Oz's team mocked Democratic opponent John Fetterman's verbal gaffes after he had suffered a serious stroke.

It was an ugly move for a physician who rode to fame as America's “Dr Oz”. Voters elected Mr Fetterman to the Senate.

In Georgia, Mr Walker's defeat to Mr Warnock, a pastor, means the Democrats now have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, a gain of one seat. They already had control of the Senate, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, but their absolute majority now means they can push through political appointments including federal judges with lifetime tenures.

The victory also gives Mr Biden a greater likelihood of being able to appoint a new Supreme Court justice should a vacancy appear in the next two years, and it means the Democrats can issue investigative subpoenas in the run up to the next election.

Mr Trump endorsed hundreds of candidates and has been quick to point out that most of them won. True, but the bulk of those were incumbents or shoo-ins.

In the races that mattered, Mr Trump’s endorsement was radioactive.

In seven key races that he weighed in on, six of his candidates lost. The only victory was in Ohio, where JD Vance won a senate seat. In Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and two races in Arizona, the Trump-endorsee was rejected.

All of this is grim news for the Republican Party. The current frontrunner for presidential candidate in 2024 is Mr Trump and he still commands a loyal following among a majority of Republicans.

But that's not enough to win a general election and if recent results are anything to go by, Americans are sick of Mr Trump’s constant whining and baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

The Justice Department has appointed a special investigator to oversee sprawling probes into Mr Trump’s actions around the time of the January 6, 2021 insurrection and the discovery of classified documents at his Florida estate.

And last month, Mr Trump hosted dinner for white supremacist Nick Fuentes and Ye, the outspoken anti-Semite formerly known as Kanye West who says he likes Hitler.

After Tuesday's election disaster in Georgia, perhaps Republicans will get the message.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, recently said “candidate quality matters” and proposed a “great policy” for his party.

“Let’s stop supporting crazy, unelectable candidates in our primaries,” he said.

Warnock v Walker, Georgia US Senate race — in pictures

Updated: December 08, 2022, 3:29 PM