Voices: Georgia Senate runoff proves once and for all that candidate quality matters

Voices: Georgia Senate runoff proves once and for all that candidate quality matters

Once again, we’re closing out election season with a Georgia runoff. And, once again, Democrats delivered a historic victory that further shifted power in the Senate and dealt a devastating blow to the Republican Party and Trumpism.

The dynamics of this race were clear. Candidate quality matters. Senator Raphael Warnock was a profoundly talented and competent candidate who talked substance. Trump-backed Herschel Walker was a uniquely unfit and unqualified candidate who talked nonsense. While Walker was trying to decide whether he would be a vampire or a werewolf, the people of Georgia decided he will not be a US Senator.

With 99 per cent of the vote reported, Warnock has defeated Walker by nearly three points and 100,000 votes. Warnock built upon the work he did in the 2020 Georgia runoff against Kelly Loeffler, continuing to rack up big margins in urban counties like DeKalb but also peeling off GOP margins in suburban counties. In a historically red state like Georgia, this is a remarkable feat. Warnock is now the first Black senator from Georgia elected to a full six-year term. With this win, Joe Biden is the first president since FDR in 1934 to not lose a single incumbent Democratic Senator in their first midterm.

Warnock ran an impressive race against a candidate who was so bad, he made President Camacho from the movie Idiocracy look bright. Aside from his inability to piece together coherent political messages, Walker was buried in an avalanche of damaging scandals. Walker faced claims of abuse from his ex-girlfriend during a time he struggled with a dissociative identity disorder. On top of this, Walker faced allegations that he paid for multiple abortions and hid the existence of at least three children, all while he pushed an anti-abortion and pro-"family values" message.

Walker’s hypocritical candidacy was a cynical move. The thinking was that the Republican base is so partisan and down for the MAGA cause that they would vote for any politician with an R next to their name who Donald Trump endorsed. Republicans thought they could turn out voters who knew very well Walker is dangerously unfit for office but would vote for him anyway as a vessel for the GOP agenda. They thought they could run a Black celebrity, a former football icon, and win some Black votes at the margins. While white Republican voters did prove some of the GOP theories correct, Black voters proved them wrong. Polling ahead of the Georgia runoff consistently showed Warnock winning the Black vote by more than 96 per cent.

To his credit, Walker delivered a surprisingly gracious concession speech, where he made "no excuses" for his loss, and called on his supporters to continue to believe in and pray for our elected officials. Walker was more gracious than the man who is responsible for his candidacy, Donald Trump, who complained of rigged elections as he watched all of his Senate-endorsed candidates lose races considered to be toss-ups.

Democrats controlled the Senate before this win, but one additional senator makes a world of difference. $80m was spent on TV ads in this runoff for a reason. This 51-49 seat majority now gives Democrats clear majorities on Senate committees, putting an end to the power-sharing agreements of the 50-50 Senate. Needless to say, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has more tools in his toolbox while Mitch McConnell will remain Senate minority leader, and his chances of ever being majority leader again are dim.

Democrats can now reshape the judiciary at a much faster pace. A clear majority on the Judiciary Committee will allow Democrats to move nominees forward with fewer procedural hurdles. The same applies to bringing bills to the floor. Democratic Senate committees can now run probes with unilateral subpoena power. This will create a sanity counterweight to the incoming House Republican majority, who havepromised probes into everything from Hunter Biden to the IRS to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

But wait, there’s more. How can we forget Manchinema. The slim 50-50 Democratic majority powered by Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote gave Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema massive leverage. We saw that play out in negotiations over Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, as Manchin and Sinema blocked key priorities. Their refusal to reform the filibuster also prevented important voting rights bills, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, from being passed. Now, Democrats have more breathing room to pursue ambitious agenda items. While they no longer have the House, they will be able to pass bills in the Senate that showcase their priorities ahead of 2024 – when they have a chance to expand their majority further despite a tough map.

As we move forward, it’s unlikely Republicans will learn from their years of mistakes. Walker contradicts several stated ideals Republicans falsely claim to embody, and yet their base voted for him. This is a familiar phenomenon that worked for Trump in 2016. But as we’ve seen in 2018, 2020, and now 2022, that base-driven approach narrows the path to victory and turns off Independents.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s reaction to Walker’s loss echoed this point on the GOP’s repeated failures. “But we don’t change anything. We have the same people in place in leadership. The same people in place, apparently at the RNC, perhaps that’s not changing. We are doing the same thing over and over again. I’m pissed tonight, frankly."

Ingraham’s statement does highlight the broad problem but ignores the orange elephant in the room: Donald Trump. Trump attempted to become a kingmaker in his post-presidency life, but instead, he’s become a maker of losers. If the November midterms didn’t make it clear enough, this Georgia runoff made it unmistakable that Trump is a corrosive parasite on the Republican Party of their own making.

Trump, whose company was just found guilty on all counts in its criminal fraud case, can now add the Georgia runoff to his mountain of piling losses. On Wednesday morning, The Hill ran a story filled with anecdotes of Senate Republicans criticizing the politically damaged Trump for his call to "terminate" the Constitution and his dinner with white supremacist Nick Fuentes. The headline read, "GOP smells blood with wounded Trump."

Is the truth finally dawning on the Republican Party? Will they finally work to remove the cancer of Trumpism they encouraged to spread throughout their party? If the embrace of Ron DeSantis and the rhetoric of Kevin McCarthy’s incoming House GOP majority is any indication, the answer is likely no. Trumpism without Trump is still Trumpism. It loses.

When it comes to the Democrats, on the other hand, they can look forward to 2024 knowing they have a winning formula against an increasingly extremist Republican Party. As the race was called, Senator Warnock’s victory party was playing DJ Khaled’s song, "All I Do Is Win.” Rightfully so.