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If Walker, Then Fetterman

It’s binary—right?
November 1, 2022
If Walker, Then Fetterman
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Everyone agrees that John Fetterman had a bad debate last week. Also, the general consensus is that Herschel Walker recently had a good debate. Walker, faux police badge in hand, survived with several sentences intact amid the lowest of expectations, while Fetterman startled everyone with his pauses and jumbled—sometimes conflicting—answers.

Walker has been incoherent for much of his campaign and is surrounded by Roy Moore levels of personal scandal—accompanied by the requisite lying and hypocrisy. Yet Republicans, proud to have nominated a man not remotely suited to the job of U.S. senator, have now declared John Fetterman is incapable of doing the same job.

Ted Cruz called Fetterman’s debate performance “stunningly painful.” Since then Cruz has been on the campaign trail telling voters that Walker needs to be in the U.S. Senate. Also, last week Cruz said that “Every person I’ve talked to is flabbergasted that the Fetterman campaign allowed him to debate in such an obvious state of impairment. I don’t know how anybody objectively could watch that performance and conclude anything other than: this guy can’t possibly do this job.”

Former Rep. Ryan Costello said “Fetterman proved he’s incapable of the physical and communication demands of the job.” Costello added that serving as senator for a six year term “is a serious job.” The Wall Street Journal predicted it was enough to sink the Democratic majority in the Senate. Calling it the October surprise, Daniel Henninger wrote “It’s now likely the Republicans will hold the Pennsylvania seat and win control of the Senate.” A Trump super PAC made an ad to mock Fetterman, stating that he “just isn’t right.”

Republicans have disqualified Fetterman while brushing aside Walker’s limitations and scandals and openly admit they are using him—abortions, assaults, Russian roulette, and all—for one purpose: power.

When Lindsey Graham stumped for Walker he was blunt about it.

“I’m your neighbor, and the reason I’m here is I’m tired of being canceled out by your two Democratic senators,” Graham said while stumping for Walker. “If we had one more senator in Washington in the Republican column, I would be the budget chairman, not Bernie Sanders,” he added.

Republicans are open about this transactionalism: They want chairmanships, and Mitch McConnell wants to be majority leader again. Walker doesn’t need to do anything as a senator except vote for them. He’s a body in a column.

When Walker’s first abortion bombshell was reported in early October, Sens. Rick Scott and Tom Cotton ran out to campaign for Walker, standing there while the man of Many Secret Children rambled on about a bull out in a field with three pregnant cows “so you know he’s got something going on.” Republicans said Walker had denied the abortion story—even as his Trump-loving adult child had repudiated him as a father—and it was time for everyone to just move on.

“Warnock and the Democrats want to make this about Herschel Walker’s yesterdays. Herschel Walker wants to make this about Georgia’s tomorrows,” Cotton said.

And Tom Cotton does not want to make this about Herschel Walker’s mental ability to carry out the job of senator.

In the weeks following the (first) abortion story there were additional, credible allegations that Walker continued to lie about. When he recently acknowledged a check written for an abortion was indeed his, he lied and said it was child support he had given to one of the mothers of one of his children. We know this was a lie because when the check was written, and she had an abortion, they had not yet had a child together. Walker’s claims of having been saved by Jesus after his unfortunate troubles also seems unconvincing, given that abortion(s) he is accused of advocating for and paying for happened after he wrote a book about his cleansing experience with his Lord and Savior.

If you are a Republican senator, you aren’t expected to keep any of this information straight, because confusion and habitual lying aren’t a concern—so long as the candidate has an R next to his name.

Unfortunately for John Fetterman, he’s a Democrat. Experts believe that Fetterman’s auditory processing issues are unrelated to his cognitive capacity. They also note that patients recovering from strokes have good days and bad days, which is why Fetterman has given some interviews where his conversation and speech are fluid, while at other times he has struggled with even prepared lines on the stump. Many stroke patients recover functions, such as auditory processing, over time.

Walker has good days and bad days, too, but is not expected to improve. He is a 60-year-old man with no known medical issues. He is the product of his God-given abilities and his choices. As such, he is more likely to be accused having additional secret children than to suddenly become conversant in public policy or capable of asking substantive, coherent questions at committee hearings.

As always, Republicans want to have it both ways. They want to say that Herschel Walker should be seen as nothing more than a reliable Republican vote, but that John Fetterman isn’t cognitively fit for the Senate.

But if we’re choosing bots whose fingers just have to press the right button when voting on the Senate floor, then, by the Republican party’s own standards, John Fetterman is a fine candidate.

Republicans aren’t asking too much of Walker should he win, and his efforts to kill off all those babies he said he wants to protect is fine with them. In Trump’s GOP, lying, hypocrisy, immorality and ignorance are not only tolerated, but celebrated.

But a lieutenant governor with aphasia, which is temporary? Republicans are certain Fetterman cannot serve his constituents.

It’s the GOP’s latest triumph of power over principle.

A.B. Stoddard

A.B. Stoddard is a columnist at The Bulwark. Previously, she was associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics.