Senior Republicans are worried that the party might fumble their opportunity to defeat Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) in 2022 if former NFL star Herschel Walker becomes the party nominee, CNN reported Thursday. Walker is a longtime friend of Donald Trump, and when the former president publicly urged him to run earlier this month, it froze the GOP field. But Walker is also a political neophyte who does not live in the state, endangering a potential pick-up opportunity for the party.
If Republicans’ nightmare scenario comes to pass, they may have Fox News host Sean Hannity to thank.
The GOP hype man and sometime Trump adviser seems to be trying to will Walker’s potential candidacy into existence. He has relentlessly promoted a Walker bid since February, endorsing him, talking him up in interviews with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and repeatedly giving him a platform to pitch a potential run. In fact, Hannity’s coverage may have been what swayed Trump to weigh in in support of Walker; he promoted Walker’s candidacy on his show the night before the former president spoke out.
Walker has built a political brand through Fox appearances, particularly on Hannity’s show. For years, he was an occasional guest the network called upon to discuss football news. But he started appearing on the network to discuss politics last summer.
Walker has made at least 28 weekday appearances on the network since June according to the Media Matters database, nine of which came on Hannity’s program. He used those Fox interviews to criticize the nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality, leaned on his relationship with Trump to deny claims that the then-president is a racist, and criticized Warnock in the lead-up to the January 5 runoff election that Warnock won.
Just weeks after Warnock was sworn in, Hannity began publicly pushing Walker to run against him in 2022.
“I'm kind of hoping you might consider running for high office in Georgia,” Hannity told him during a February 10 interview. “Would you consider that?”
“I have thought about it,” Walker replied. “And I thought about it because, you know, with all of these people talking about impeachment and first that -- all of them should be impeached first of all, because the oath that you take to go to office is to protect the Constitution of the United States, foreign and domestic. And it doesn't seem that they are protecting it. So, we got to people in office that's going to protect that.”
At the end of the segment Hannity said that Walker had his endorsement, “although maybe you'll tell me, ‘Sean, we're friends, don't endorse me. It won't help me.’ I'll do whatever you want.”
Hannity’s interview is the first mention of a potential Walker 2022 Senate run in the Nexis database.
The Fox host plugged Walker’s candidacy again two weeks later when he returned to the program.
“We’re going to take Herschel out of the equation for a second,” Hannity told Fox contributor Leo Terrell during the February 24 segment. “Do we want him to run for governor or for senator?”
Terrell replied that he should run for governor, to which Hannity said “I’m in either way” and asked Walker to pick. Walker replied by calling for “voter integrity” and criticizing former President Barack Obama’s comments that reparations for Black Americans are “justified.”
The following week, Hannity broached the topic during an interview with Graham.
“Will you help me draft Herschel Walker to run for Senate down in Georgia?” Hannity asked on March 1. “Because I happen to be very fond of him.”
“Yeah, I talked to him today,” Graham replied. “Stay tuned.”
“That's amazing. Great minds think alike,” Hannity responded.
When Graham returned to the program on March 9, Hannity brought up a Walker bid again.
“How do you like this?” Hannity asked. “Because I know you said it last week -- Herschel Walker for Senate from Georgia. How do you like that? I like the ring of that. What do you think?”
Graham replied, “I think it's a touchdown.”
Hannity further promoted Walker’s candidacy during an interview with Terrell on April 7, and with Trump himself on Monday.
And on Wednesday, Walker returned to the program alongside Fox contributor Lara Trump, who is mulling her own Senate bid in North Carolina. Hannity told Walker that a poll “has you beating Sen. Warnock” and asked if he was considering a run.
“I'm weighing my options. But I can promise you this, and this is probably what the pollster has seen, that if I run, I'm running to win because right now, what's going on in this country is absolutely, absolutely terrible,” Walker replied.
Trump also said she had nothing to announce on the program. “But maybe Herschel and I will come back together and give you our final decision,” she added. “We'll see.”
Hannity replied, “OK. Be like the final episode of The Apprentice. We'll do a two-hour special, you know?"