One of the many depressing lessons of the last seven years is that flagrant lying matters much less—significantly less, in fact—in American politics than one might hope. Both on the campaign trail and as president, Donald Trump has been a fountain of deception, lying about matters large and small. He lied about hurricane trajectories, about his government’s response to the coronavirus, about the results of the 2020 election, even that he was supposed to throw out the first pitch at a New York Yankees game. (Trump was apparently jealous that Dr. Anthony Fauci had received an invitation to kick off a Washington Nationals game; Fauci’s throw ended up being way off the mark.)
Despite this massive compendium of easily penetrated deceit and the stupid and destructive politics that emerged from it, Trump demonstrated that anyone could withstand the scandal of a single lie by creating more of them or repaving old lies with new ones. As long as you kept pressing on without flinching in the face of scrutiny or accountability, you could pretty much get away with anything. The Lie Cops weren’t going to break down the door and bust you. By the end of his presidency, per The Washington Post, he had lied or said mistruths on more than 30,000 occasions. He almost won reelection legitimately. When he didn’t, he simply stepped up his lying game. It may help him get back to the White House.
Naturally, Trump is a highly skilled and practiced liar, someone for whom bullshitting is practically an art form. Raised in what is arguably the country’s most dishonest trade—real estate development—he is among history’s greatest liars. One question facing Republicans as they veer further into the right-wing fever swamps is just how far they can extend Trumpism and pass his qualities on to candidates who don’t have his surname. Can the art of getting away with lying in Trump’s trademarked “never acknowledge and double down” fashion become part of every Republican’s skill set?
Enter Herschel Walker. Last month, the two-time All-Pro running back from the University of Georgia won the Peach State’s Republican Senate primary. A rabid right-winger, Walker has fully backed Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen, going as far as to say that Joe Biden didn’t get “50 million votes.” (Biden received more than 80 million.) He has urged revotes in a number of close states, including Arizona, Pennsylvania, and his home state. In chilling fashion, he called on Trump to conduct a “cleansing” of the country in the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration.
Walker is, even by recent GOP standards, an absolute firehose of lies. He’s also, to put it bluntly, absolutely godawful at lying. His deceptions seem to arrive in the news pre-collapsed—they are easily uncovered and incredibly numerous; his falsehoods have been repeatedly revealed over the last several months. At this point the “False Statements” section of his Wikipedia page is longer than the one recounting his ongoing campaign to be Georgia’s next senator.
Walker has depicted himself as a successful entrepreneur and a worthy voice for Georgia’s business community. “Whenever Georgia needed somebody to speak up for their businesses, they called Herschel Walker,” he said at a rally earlier this year. But Walker has drastically inflated his success as a businessman over a period of decades while also obscuring a tidy number of disasters. He has described himself as the proprietor of a food service business that he compared to a “mini–Tyson Foods,” claiming that it employed more than 100 people across several plants and brought in nearly $100 million in sales. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the reality was very different: The company’s profits were less than $2 million; Walker meanwhile had simply licensed his name to the business. In documentation relating to Paycheck Protection Program loans, it revealed it had only eight employees.
In February, meanwhile, Walker boasted that “I still have about 250 people that sew drapery and bedspreads for me.” That sounds impressive! There’s just one problem: It isn’t. While Walker has claimed on his website that “[Herschel Walker Enterprises] and Renaissance Hospitality provides major hotels, restaurants and hospitals with custom fabric bedding, drapery and window treatments,” the truth is that Renaissance Hospitality doesn’t exist anymore—it dissolved a year ago. Moreover, Walker didn’t even own the business—a friend did.
This week, things got even worse—and weirder—for Walker. On Monday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that Walker had, on several occasions, claimed he worked in law enforcement despite the fact that he had no such experience. In 2013, he told a group of people at a suicide prevention event that he had “worked in law enforcement, so I had a gun. I put this gun in my holster, and I said, ‘I’m gonna kill this dude.’” In 2017 he said, “I’ve been in criminal justice all my life.” Two years later he told a group of soldiers, “I spent time at Quantico at the FBI training school. Y’all didn’t know I was an agent?” There was, yet again, just one problem: Walker had never worked in law enforcement; while his campaign claims he did attend a one-week training course at Quantico, that doesn’t make you an “agent.” Walker just … made all of that up. His one discernible tie to law enforcement was an incident in 2001 in which he threatened to shoot at cops while in the midst of a mental health episode. (Walker attended treatment after the incident. I suppose that makes him a psychiatrist.)
Throughout his political career, Walker has railed against single-parent families in the Black community. In 2021, speaking to right-wing livestreamers Diamond and Silk, Walker complained about how often “the father leaves in the Black family.”
“He leaves the boys alone so they’ll be raised by their mom,” he said. “If you have a child with a woman, even if you have to leave that woman—even if you have to leave that woman—you don’t leave that child.” Those are some bold words to live by. One problem, though: Walker doesn’t live by them. On Tuesday, The Daily Beast revealed that Walker has a son, now 10 years old, whom he doesn’t see. (After this story was published, The Daily Beast tripled the number of children for whom Walker is an absentee father.*)
The portrait that emerges is a pretty simple one: The guy is a liar and a dummy. Walker spouts off in interviews and the campaign trail, inflates his successes, and makes bold claims that are comically easy to disprove. His campaign occasionally acknowledges them or tries to walk them back—it acknowledged the parentage of his son, for instance—but Walker has managed, either by wit or by accident, to keep following the Trump North Star, charging forward, headlong into the next incident. This candidacy is ultimately a test of how much Trump broke our politics—and how much a lesser facsimile of the former president can lie again and again and still succeed in American politics. Perhaps our politics are sturdy enough to survive it. It’s still no fun watching voters have to stomach this sort of stupidity and deceit.
* This post concerns a breaking news story and has been updated.