Months before news broke alleging that Herschel Walker paid for an abortion, top Republicans in the state — including those advising his team — warned him that the story could torpedo his campaign.
Four people with knowledge of those preliminary discussions said that the abortion issue was well known within the state, even before reporters began inquiring about it.
It was brought to the attention of those working on Walker’s behalf, in part as a means of discouraging him from running. His team downplayed the potential disruption it would cause. But, according to one of those people, they did not outright deny it.
“It was, ‘Eh, it’s not going to come out, you’re being hyperbolic,’” said one top Georgia GOP operative, granted anonymity to discuss private conversations. “The reaction was not, ‘They’re not going to say that because it never happened.’ It was like everything else, ‘Eh, people aren’t going to find out.’”
On Monday, people found out. A bombshell story by the Daily Beast stated that Walker, a former NFL star, paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009. As corroboration, the woman provided a receipt of the abortion, a deposited check from Walker for $700 that paid for the procedure, and even a signed “get well soon” card bearing, what appeared to be, Walker’s signature.
Walker has denied the report, which POLITICO has not independently verified, as a “flat out lie.” His campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Republican leadership, including former President Donald Trump, who boosted Walker with an endorsement, have reaffirmed their support.
“Herschel has properly denied the charges against him and I have no doubt he is correct,” said Trump in a statement. “They are trying to destroy a man who has true greatness in his future, just as he had athletic greatness in his past.”
What the statements of support for Walker leave out is the admission that many people in top GOP circles, including those with ties to the Trump operation, were aware for months about the allegation’s existence.
Liz Mair, a longtime Republican opposition researcher and consultant with corporate clients in Georgia, said she had heard the claim as far back as 2021. She is not involved in the campaign.
“I remember hearing about this very early and thinking it was like a classic oppo hit,” she recalled. “This abortion thing I heard. Having more kids than he was copping to I heard. And all of this was before we got to the point of him being [the Republican candidate]. I had heard about the alleged liabilities. And abortion was top of the list.”
Another Republican strategist who was involved in the Georgia Senate race said there was talk this summer — when stories emerged that Walker had fathered previously undisclosed children — that claims of a past abortion would follow.
“It’s not that we knew about this specific case, but he’s a wealthy, famous football player who is obviously spreading his seed,” said the strategist, granted anonymity to discuss internal party discussions.
Rather than move to proactively address the story, Walker’s team held their breath, hoping that the election would pass before it surfaced.
“I think people were holding out hope that we have five weeks to go and it would never come out, but you can never bet on the waiting game,” said one person close to the Walker campaign, granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. That person said there were efforts to assuage concerns from within Walker’s own family about the abortion story coming out. Specifically, the person said, Walker’s son Christian, “told his dad that you have to tell the truth and come clean on this. It bubbled back up during the summer, and some people got to Christian and he was talked down off a ledge [about the abortion].”
In a statement to POLITICO, Christian Walker denied that he had spoke to his dad or the campaign “about ANYTHING to do with a specific abortion case.” He added that “I was never ‘talked down a ledge.’”
But Walker’s son, who has over half a million followers on Instagram and frequently talks about subjects like abortion and absentee fathers, also expressed outrage over his father’s response to the news and called him a liar and hypocrite on social media.
“Family values, people? He has four kids, four different women, wasn’t in the house raising one of them,” said Walker’s son on Instagram. “I was silent after lie after lie after lie … We were told at the beginning of this he was going to get ahead of his past, hold himself accountable. That would have been fine, go ahead. He didn’t do any of that.”
The publication of the Daily Beast story has set off a massive, potentially destructive, political ripple aimed at Walker’s campaign. Georgia is considered a top prospect for Republicans to gain a Senate seat — currently held by Raphael Warnock — but there have been ongoing concerns about Walker’s past. Since running for Senate, it was revealed that Walker is father to three other children in addition to his son Christian.
Inside the state, top operatives professed to being dumbfounded by how the Walker team has handled the matter. Immediately after the Daily Beast item went live, Walker went on Fox News to refute the story, but host Sean Hannity repeatedly quizzed him on details from the story including the $700 check. And the early insistence that the campaign would sue the Daily Beast for defamation was viewed as a strategic misstep, one that would place the onus on the candidate to back up his fervent denial in court or look like he was bluffing. Instead, the aforementioned Georgia GOP operative suggested that Walker should have downplayed the story as something from a checkered, forgotten past.
“You’ve conceded holding a gun to your wife’s head, and stalking women outside a window, and almost killing a man during road rage,” the operative said. “This is what you choose not to concede on when there is overwhelming evidence that this happened?”
But Walker has had a slew of high-profile Republicans rush to his defense as well, including many who — like Trump — have said they are convinced by and comfortable with his denial. Instead, they’ve chosen to rerun a now familiar play: accusing the media of trying to destroy a Republican candidate, despite the evidence presented in the piece.
“Georgia could decide the Senate majority, so desperate Democrats and liberal media have turned to anonymous sources and character assassination,” said Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. “This is an attempt to distract from Warnock’s record of failure resulting in rising costs and out of control crime.”
Even then, however, some of Walker’s primary boosters have implicitly conceded that the story could have been approached with a touch of humility. His appeal is, in part, that he’s imperfect and not steeped in politics. Better, they argue, to lean into that.
“He’s a quintessential example of when a celebrity decides to run for office, they often don’t fully understand the microscope that accompanies the decision. And in the politics of personal destruction, which we have been in for too many years, they are going to try to say anything to rip you apart,” said American Conservative Union president Matt Schlapp. “My advice to Herschel Walker and any other imperfect conservative – which is anyone who walked the earth except our Savior and His mother — is yep, you’ve probably made mistakes in your life and if you want to own up to it you should, and if you don’t think it’s people’s business tell them to flip off, and just stay on message.”