Senator Raphael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker in Georgia’s runoff election, giving Democrats a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, and leaving Republicans with much to consider as election autopsies commence.
Multiple individuals from within the Republican National Committee (RNC)/GOP establishment spoke with Timcast to help shed light on this year’s Georgia Senate race and answer the question: What happened?
According to insiders, there were several factors that all but guaranteed a loss for the Party.
Ultimately, the GOP failed to win the Senate seat in Georgia because of a lackluster candidate, a conflict-riddled Republican political establishment that shuns (and in some cases, outright fears black Americans) and a pathological, systemic failure to engage black voters.
Herschel Walker — The Candidate
Despite having been born in Augusta, Georgia, and notwithstanding his background as a football player, Walker lives in Texas, most recently evidenced by statements made by the candidate earlier in the year while campaigning, when he described Texas as his home.
It is being said that after wiping away the veneer of “football star,” the Walker campaign started at a deficit, because of his lack of ties to anyone within the local community.
“He wasn’t a known, regular figure in the black community in metro Atlanta or in Georgia,” a source from the RNC said. “He was a football star, yes. But in terms of being present and having roots and ties on a regular basis, like a Rafael Warnock, like a Kelvin King, Herschel did not have that.”
Warnock unquestionably has deep ties to Georgia’s local community. He is the head of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was baptized, delivered his trial sermon, was ordained as a minister, and later became co-pastor with his father Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. Warnock is also an incumbent senator who attended Atlanta’s Moorehouse College, one of the nations’ most notable Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and the alma mater of celebrated African-Americans, including Dr. King, Julian Bond, Spike Lee, and Samuel L. Jackson.
“Has anybody worked with Herschel? What has Herschel done on a quasi-regular basis in the community here in Georgia?” asked the RNC source, who suggested Kelvin King — a black Republican who owns an Atlanta-area construction company, and whose wife appeared on a political show on Fox — would have stood a much better chance against Warnock in the general election.
Post-election, Republicans are still divided on how Walker is perceived.
Some glowingly describe Walker as a God-fearing man, a caring person who truly wants to help his constituents. Others say he “represents all of the negative stereotypes of black men” — abusive to women, absentee father — which presented a critical weakness that impeded his ability to attract enough support to pull off a victory.
One insider with the GOP said Walker is respected for having “lifted so many people out of poverty through his businesses and different organizations.” But, GOP officials lament the fact that a hostile media apparatus was so effectively able to stain the image of the campaign.
“He’s helped people heal from mental illness. He’s done so much. But none of that is really getting across to the public. People just wanna make it seem like he’s this dumb bumbling idiot,” the insider added.
To better understand why public perception of Walker wasn’t cultivated with more finesse, it is necessary to consider the team running his campaign.
Herschel Walker’s Campaign Consultants Made Catastrophic Decisions
The Walker campaign fell victim to critical missteps that resulted in the ultimate outcome of Walker losing the general and runoff elections. Much of the poor decision-making was not Walker’s doing: it was his campaign staff.
“He had horrible, high-paid consultants,” Timcast was told by a GOP staffer.
One of the key mistakes Walker’s campaign managers allegedly made was downplaying the importance of the race in Georgia, ignoring black voters and — perhaps intentionally — neglecting the black vote. They thought they could win without it. “So no, there was no strategy, no desire to have a strategy, for Hershel to have the black vote from day one,” a well-known GOP official stated. “Had there been real black outreach, the results would have looked much different.”
A decision was reportedly made by campaign managers to downplay Walker’s “blackness” and run him as a candidate who was “just an American.” The official explained, “But hell, he is black. What do you think they’re seeing?”
The official went on to say that Walker never spoke directly to the black community, which could have handed him a win in the election:
He never took the message to the black community. He never asked for their vote. How do you think they’re going to get the vote if they don’t ask for the vote? If Kemp can get 20 percent of the black vote, Herschel can’t get 20 percent of the black vote? If Herschel had gotten four more percent of the black vote in the general election, there would’ve been no runoff. But his campaign made a conscientious decision to run him as if he was not a black candidate. Hell, he’s black — how can he get away from that? That would’ve been his number one strength going into the general election, in terms of picking up the black vote. You only needed 12 to 14 percent. They lost because they didn’t see the value, or the need, or the desire to go after the black vote.
Walker is described as a flawed candidate who did not have the right team around him from the RNC and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). The consultants who shaped his image positioned him poorly, compared to his rival.
“I need to see him in a suit,” the GOP official said. “And not a four-button suit, a new suit every day. Because the people need to close their eyes and think of him as a senator.”
One criticism of the campaign team is that they wasted opportunities to shine a spotlight on Walker’s record as a businessman, opting instead to focus on his athletic background.
“Why didn’t they message him in a different way, instead of keeping him looking like a football coach?” asked an additional high-level GOP insider. “But I don’t think J.C. Watts, Steve Largent, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Jack Kemp, and the rest of them had a consistent football-themed campaign where they had him dressed like a football coach doing pushups on Fox News and doing interviews in gyms.”
Behind the scenes, a member of the GOP excoriated Walker’s campaign over the public image they helped shape:
They reinforced the stereotype of him just being a dumb jock. They did not reinforce the thought of him being a successful businessman, which he is. They didn’t reinforce the notion of him being a successful entrepreneur or public speaker, a motivational speaker, which he was for many years. They didn’t lay into making his love for health and athleticism into policy positions for children, especially minority children. You can take the person’s strength and turn it into policy.
Yet, even despite multiple failures by the team at the helm of the Walker campaign, the unwillingness of the RNC and GOP establishment to prioritize black voters is said to be one of the biggest factors as to why Republicans failed to capture the Georgia Senate seat.
The RNC & GOP Establishment Intentionally and Systemically Disregard Black Voters — Some Within Party Leadership Actually Fear Them
Black outreach could have changed the outcome of the senate election had there been a “sustained campaign, a different reporting structure” and if black outreach were a “real priority from the top down,” Timcast was told.
One central question facing strategists was, “Where could Herschel pick up votes?” The issue dogging the campaign was that Herschel was losing votes from Republicans that were voting for Kemp, but weren’t voting for Walker, because “they didn’t feel that they could picture him being in the senate for six years quizzing judges.”
A Republican Party official explained, “If the 200,000 who voted for Kemp would have voted for Herschel, Herschel would have been a done deal last month. So, what Herschel needed to have done is picked up those small increases and the most natural ally would’ve been the black community.”
Some allege that the GOP suffers from a lack of meaningful black voter engagement on a continual basis. They believe that long-term investments can (and should) be made to shore up black voters, given that demographic’s increasing relevance to U.S. political outcomes.
“The Republican Party has run out of white conservatives, they’re fresh out. The only way you’re going to grow the base is with young people and minorities,” Timcast learned from a GOP source. “You take this younger generation now, you’ve got the best chance, because they haven’t been voting Republican or Democrat for the past 20 years.”
But, according to insiders, leaders within the RNC and GOP establishment are not particularly warm to the idea of more blacks within the Party.
“We have a lot of RINOs [Republican In Name Only]. We have a lot of neocons,” said a Republican staffer who has worked in Georgia. “We have a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable with so many black Republicans flooding the Party, even though the Party is the Party of abolition. It’s Frederick Douglas’s Party. It’s a power thing. No one wanted to lose their position and power. They don’t want to start having to compete with a lot of articulate and brilliant black people.”
Questions also frequently surround non-white newcomers to the Republican Party who seek to run for office or take any active role in governing. “You’re black, you’re Democrats. Let us lead you and you guys, just listen to us. We know what’s best,” is how black Republicans can be viewed within the Party, according to the staffer.
Fear of black Americans assuming power within the ranks of a political party is also acknowledged to be not an exclusively Republican phenomenon. “You have white Democrats who are afraid of blacks taking over [the] Democratic Party. It’s the establishment, you’re taking something from them in their minds,” a Republican leader said. “So, it’s not about conservative values, it’s about them personally. So yeah, there’s some who feel that way. Is that the rank and file? No, not the rank and file.”
While it’s widely accepted that courting black voters is now a necessary component of winning elections, and many ground-level Republicans want to prioritize winning over black voters, leadership at the RNC is said to be less inclined. There are people at the grassroots level who are serious about drawing in black voters, but given the way the system is orchestrated and the “powers that be in leadership” it’s not important to senior staff. They have instead opted to push for gains amongst the Hispanic community.
Party insiders are quick to point to the success of former President Donald Trump, who garnered 18 percent of the vote among black men in 2020, following a plan that specifically targeted black Americans and sought to address their grievances.
“I would say [Trump] was a problem in terms of messaging to the community because of the way the media portrayed him on a consistent basis,” a senior-level GOP veteran said. “So, that created more of a challenge in terms of us breaking through. But still, in spite of that, he still did extremely well.”
They mentioned that Trump was the only Republican candidate that has had an actual black agenda, and that gaining support from black Americans was a “priority” for Trump “for whatever reason.” And for the former president, black outreach was “the biggest and highest funded coalition group of all of them — more than women, more than Latino. He made it a priority.”
Trump’s overtures to black voters included a solemn acknowledgment that “African Americans built this nation” — a point rarely (if ever) acknowledged by Republicans. As part of his 2020 campaign, Trump unveiled his “Platinum Plan” for black Americans, a $500 billion initiative that sought to create three million new jobs, close disparities in health care and education, and expand school choice, among other priorities.
“Trump showed you that you can get blacks to vote Republican,” the GOP source told Timcast. “Trump was never afraid to talk about his African-American support.”
Despite Trump having laid the groundwork to show that winning larger blocs of black voters is possible, officials within the RNC and GOP establishment reportedly won’t target them.
The RNC Directly Impeded Black Outreach in Georgia
In a bid to build out an effective ground operation targeting black voters in Georgia, Republicans opened a community engagement center in College Park. But, insiders say the effort was a disaster because of turf wars between the RNC and local GOP staff, as well as the conscious decision by senior RNC officials to inadequately fund the effort.
The RNC reportedly opened a minority outreach center and didn’t invest in any real outreach. Our sources were unaware of any flyers, commercials, or activities targeting black voters.
A high-level Republican Party official said that RNC chairman, Ronna McDaniel, should have contacted every black newspaper in the state of Georgia and been on as many black radio stations as possible: “I would have contacted black athletes — because there are black athletes and entertainers who are conservative — and I would have gotten them to come out for Herschel. I would have gotten an all-star cast of black preachers who are pro-life, who are against children having same sex operations and put them out there in a commercial.”
Others highlighted the disconnect between RNC leaders and local GOP members, explaining that the state Republican leadership functions very differently from the national Republican leadership. So, actions by the RNC may ultimately be in direct conflict with the priorities of the state Party of Georgia.
The average voter might believe the RNC and state parties should be working together. But, oftentimes conservatives will donate to the RNC thinking the RNC will help state parties, that they’re gonna help them win or help candidates, and that is not what they do.
One million dollars was said to have been split between multiple black outreach centers in several states for 2020-2022. However, this figure is paltry compared to investments made for Hispanic outreach, like a center in Texas into which the RNC made a $7 million investment, insiders say.
“So they had no intention of doing black outreach — they wouldn’t even allocate the right amount of funding to make it successful, especially out here in Atlanta,” a Republican worker said.
The RNC launched the GOP’s Georgia Victory program, which reportedly had 13 offices throughout the state and more than 85 staffers.
Workers on the ground speak of a chaotic, conflict-riddled environment that did more to hamper Walker’s election than facilitate it.
The Georgia Victory program interfered with local outreach by reportedly using individuals who were “paid through the RNC.” Insiders say the biggest problem was they hire people from outside the state who aren’t in touch with the community — they kind of have their own ideas of things that they want to get done.
A GOP worker described an environment with a “lot of conflict. There’s a lot you can’t say, there’s a lot you can’t do. There are people that they don’t want you to talk to. There’s a lot of red tape and there’s people calling the shots that have no idea what they are talking about.”
The Georgia Victory Program exerted considerable power over on-the-ground activities by vetoing any strategies or activities with which they disagreed. Some workers claimed Georgia was one of the toughest states to work in because the GVP worked against its own staffers.
They sought “complete control over everything” to the point of using camera surveillance and obtaining contact information for every single person who walked through the door, even curious Democrats and friends simply visiting staff. Many visitors “didn’t want to be on camera the whole time under surveillance” and didn’t want their information in the GOP database, as they just wanted to attend an event or hear what staffers had to say.
“But the people with the GVP, they made it very hard for people to feel welcome in the community center, especially black people from the community,” the GOP worker said. “They did whatever they could to make them feel very unwelcome and sometimes made it seem like it was just for a photo op.”
They added, “these people are trash,” in a scathing rebuke of RNC and GVP leadership. “They’re just nameless, faceless people who just suppress a movement.”
The individuals in the GVP were reportedly not working collaboratively with other individuals on the ground to ensure a win for Walker, but instead engaged in self-serving turf wars. A testament to the belligerent environment created by RNC leadership was the rancor surrounding affiliated groups who wanted to help Republicans win Georgia.
“The people in the GVP, they hated [conservative activist] Scott Presler. They treated him badly and were disrespectful because they believe Presler is a threat to them,” Timcast was told by the GOP worker. “They feel like it’s competition. They just don’t like that. They don’t want to partner with any outside organizations because they don’t want to risk being overshadowed.”
Staffers say the RNC and GVP gave the impression it is a waste of money to invest in black communities. Senior staff were focused on data analytics, urging people who were supposed to be focused on black outreach to go to predominantly white areas like Sandy Springs (66 percent white) and Buckhead (88 percent white) to hit quotas so the GVP could continue receiving funding.
RNC leadership “missed an opportunity” because they were more concerned with targeting voters already likely to vote Republican than bringing in new voters. It’s a strategy avoided by Gov. Brian Kemp, who won his election and actually made inroads with black voters.
“Gov. Kemp went into areas where people heckled him,” the Republican worker recalled. “People didn’t even want to hear what he had to say. But, by the end of his speech, they respected him a lot more and he was able to get more black men to vote for him just because he showed up.”
There was a lack of real, substantive work out of the community center in College Park, not because of the engagement coordinators who were selected, but because the top-down structure of the RNC reportedly “handcuffed” everyone at the grassroots level.
Republicans, who generally champion limited government and often say they prioritize investing authority in the government closest to the people, ensured all core decision-making was done not by workers on the ground in Georgia, but from higher-ups nestled in Washington D.C. suites. The people tasked with overseeing community engagement had no real-world experience or track record of success with community engagement.
According to some involved in the campaign, it’s not that local GOP staff in Georgia didn’t want to do more, they weren’t allowed to do more.
“The RNC is not set up as an entrepreneurial enterprise. It is very much an oligarchy, a monarchy in the sense that there’s a pecking order, there’s a chain of command. If you want to do something, you’ve gotta run it up the chain,” a high-level GOP official stated.
Local staffers had their ideas filtered up to the state director in Georgia, who then ran it up to the political director. If the political director felt the idea was good, then it would be executed.
One worker claimed the organizational structure did not make sense:
You had people making decisions, then you had the community engagement coordinators who weren’t allowed to talk to the press, weren’t allowed to talk to the media, weren’t allowed to engage with people, because they would get in trouble. So they were really handcuffed in the world and the roles that they could do.
Multiple people say they are unaware of a single palm card being printed, signs being hung, doors knocked, or any substantive boots-on-the-ground effort successfully executed through the GVP community center in support of Walker or the community. They say they knew of no actual materials that say “Hey, this is what the Republican Party stands for” that were centered around black community engagement.
“The RNC did no black outreach, and they setup a community center out here, but they wouldn’t even invite the community to the center,” a GOP consultant said. “They wouldn’t even let the black workers go out and do some serious outreach. They wouldn’t fund them. Like, no resources were allocated to them to do black outreach.”
When pressed on how the RNC is partially to blame for the loss of Georgia’s Senate seat, a well-known GOP official said, “Well, why’s the RNC getting all this money then? If the RNC’s not running campaigns, what do they need money for then? See, the RNC doesn’t have to wait on the campaign to, to do anything. The RNC can say, I’m gonna go to Georgia and we are gonna target minority voters.”
Insiders explained that the RNC should have won the Georgia election by targeting black voters.
One insider stated that the messaging shouldn’t be to convince them to become Republicans, but rather, to show people they’ve gotten nothing by voting Democrat:
I’ve been voting Democrat all this time. What have I gotten for it? I voted for Warnock, but my gas is higher, now my milk is higher. Now the interest rates on the mortgage is higher. Now you’re telling my kids that a man could get pregnant. Now why can’t they run that kinda commercial?
As advice to Republicans across the country, they said that in order to win future elections, community outreach must be “ongoing” and “adopted into the platform” as “part of the Republican strategy going forward.”
The RNC Was Okay With Losing The Senate
Further tarnishing the reputation of RNC leadership following the 2022 Georgia election are allegations that senior officials in the GOP establishment were all too comfortable losing the Senate seat, if it meant dealing a blow to Trump’s bid for a second term in the White House.
There is a kind of “civil war happening between MAGA Republicans and establishment Republicans,” a consultant said. The latter are quite comfortable with Democrats winning the senate seat “because it would break the current MAGA movement” and “kind of cut off Trump’s legs and his ability to win in 2024.”
Even “never-Trump” Republicans outside the state of Georgia are said to have supported Walker because they believed he was a terrible candidate and that he was going to lose.
The divide between national-level RNC officials and state-level Republicans is once again highlighted, this time by wildly divergent sets of political calculus. “They didn’t really care to win the Senate,” speculated the consultant. “Their biggest concern was to win the House. I’m not saying the RNC wanted Herschel to lose, but I’m saying they didn’t care if they lost the Senate. But for Georgia Republicans, it was crucial that we get the Senate seat back. That’s why I’m saying there is a difference in terms of agenda when it comes to the RNC and the Georgia Republican leadership.”
Should Ronna McDaniel Continue As Chair?
All sources who spoke with Timcast were unanimous in rejecting the continued leadership of the RNC by current chair Ronna McDaniel, pointing to a string of election failures spanning her entire tenure as head of the Party.
“Other chairmen have been run out of the party for a lot less,” the senior-level GOP official stated. “Under her watch, we lost the presidency, lost the house, Red Wave didn’t happen, lost the Senate. If the RNC is supposed to be about ground game and about winning elections and raising money and giving that money as a resource for them to win, she doesn’t have a winning record.”
McDaniel is described as a neocon who is not part of the grassroots.
A GOP staffer in Georgia suspects McDaniel will keep her job. “That blows me away,” they said. “I don’t know how, given her string of failures since 2018, 2020, and now 2022. I guess it just has a lot to do with connections with who she knows. And that’s the thing about the apparatus, it’s like a country club, in a way.”