‘Duct Tape and Band-Aids’: Inside Herschel Walker’s Campaign Collapse

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

It was no secret that Herschel Walker had baggage.

Before he even announced his candidacy, Walker’s still-unofficial campaign hired outside consultants to compile a report on Walker’s potential problems. The report weighed in at over 500 pages.

According to two people familiar with the tome of opposition research, which was first reported by NBC News, it didn’t include allegations of secret children, or Walker paying for multiple abortions, or even his obviously false claim to have graduated in the top 1 percent of his class at the University of Georgia, which the campaign was later forced to scrub from his official website bio.

But it did give those first staffers a clue that they were in for a battle with a less-than-forthcoming candidate—a candidate who had zero campaign experience, harbored improbable political fantasies, and was easily distracted.

Just look at election night.

As the votes rolled in last month, Walker was fixated on the results from one precinct: Johnson County, the location of his home town of Wrightsville.

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Walker wasn’t surprised he had won Johnson County. He won it, in fact, with slightly under 74 percent of the electorate. Walker was instead surprised—“absolutely shocked,” according to a former staffer—that he didn’t win 100 percent of the county. Not only did Walker fall well short of those absurd expectations, Gov. Brian Kemp outperformed him in Johnson County, another fact that infuriated him, three staffers said.

“I’m gonna call the sheriff and have him find out who didn’t vote for me,” Walker said, according to one aide.

Meanwhile, the staff around him were realizing that Walker wasn’t going to clear the 50 percent threshold, and the race was probably headed to a runoff that he would lose without Kemp voters pushing him over the finish line.

The moment was typical Walker: myopically focused on personal grievances while his campaign crumbled around him.

Pardon my French

This account of Walker as a lying, delusional, confused, misled candidate—eager to believe what sounded good and dismiss the bad—is based on interviews with five campaign staffers and people close to the candidate. Staffers painted a picture of a man who was personally charming—a congenial, generous Southerner who would always inquire about his staff’s well-being—but who was often seeking and accepting advice from the least experienced people in the room: namely, his “redpilled” wife Julie Blanchard, as two staffers put it, and his friend and sometime agent Michele Beagle.

“Pardon my french, but fuck Julie and fuck Michele Beagle,” one staffer said, likening Blanchard to “Lady Macbeth” and Beagle’s amoebic role as campaign chair to a “minister without portfolio.”

“The best spouses know how to calm the candidate, but Julie was more like an accelerant for Walker’s worst instincts,” another staffer said.

Staff and advisers said Blanchard and Beagle posed a running challenge throughout the campaign: a group of experienced political operatives wrangling an unfocused, unreliable candidate away from distractions and unhelpful influences.

“We held it together best we could, with fucking duct tape and Band-Aids,” one aide reflected.

Those efforts were routinely derailed, staff said. And while most of the fault lay with the candidate himself, they all said, frequently it was Blanchard who jammed the gears.

Asked for comment, acting Walker campaign spokesperson Timmy Teepell dismissed the claims as “cowardly.”

“This coordinated attack by disgruntled campaign staffers is unseemly, dishonest and unethical,” Teepell said. “Julie is a professional, energetic, and unwavering defender of her husband as she should be, and Herschel was a tireless campaigner who outworked everyone. They both care deeply for our country and Georgia and I am honored to have been on their team. He would have been a great Senator.”

Teepell, who said he had been a senior strategist since August and assumed the spokesperson role “when the anonymous assholes started spreading lies,” continued that Michele Beagle is “a loyal friend to Herschel and Julie, and a dedicated volunteer and supporter of the campaign. The cowardly folks engaged in this dishonest whisper campaign should quit politics for the good of the country.”

But according to the staffers, Walker had created something of a mini-campaign within a campaign—a close inner circle of decision-makers, comprising just those three people: him, Blanchard, and Beagle.

None of them, the staffers all noted, had any political experience whatsoever. But they all routinely asserted themselves over decisions as large as messaging, events, and advertisements, and as small as ordering merchandise or selecting a caterer. Frequently, these people said, those decisions were at odds with what the professionals would have done.

<div class="inline-image__title">1447162243</div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images</div>
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Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Take “coachgate,” for example.

In late November, Raphael Warnock visited Wrightsville, where one of Walker’s former high-school football coaches threw his support behind the Democrat.

“That visit fucked Herschel’s mind up,” one staffer said.

Warnock’s move enraged both Walker and Blanchard, they said, with Blanchard pushing the campaign to pivot its line of attack to the coach, and away from allegations of evictions at a subsidized-housing complex owned by Warnock’s church.

“That was the point we felt we lost him,” said another aide, still mystified at exactly why the moment seemed to hit so close to home. “Two weeks out from the runoff, and we couldn’t get him to understand why this was a bad idea, to go after a high-school football coach when the other message was working.”

When the campaign pushed back, Walker called for a five-day blackout, canceling almost all public activity over the first weekend of early runoff voting. At that point, three staffers said, communication between the candidate and his top aides broke down—and it never recovered.

Blanchard also had other grand plans for the campaign that were never realistic.

“Julie wanted Cardi B on the campaign trail,” one flabbergasted staffer recalled, referring to the outspoken liberal hip-hop star from the Bronx. “The person who sings ‘Wet Ass Pussy,’ and you want to bring her on the campaign trail to appeal to conservatives, just because she tweeted that we’re in a recession?”

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But other decisions may have had real consequences. For instance, after conspicuously distancing himself from Walker for months, Kemp reached out in October to invite Walker to a joint rally the night before the general election.

The Walker campaign declined, however, favoring their own pre-planned rally, with staffers citing various reasons, including logistical hurdles and what one staffer characterized as a lingering antipathy towards Kemp among Walker’s inner circle. In hindsight, three staffers said, the last-minute joint appearance could have converted uneasy Kemp voters the next day—or at least stopped some from ticking the box for Warnock, which they did in droves.

“If we had to do that one over again, probably would have made sense to do the Kemp rally,” one of those aides said, noting that a finish ahead of Warnock in the general would have changed the tone of the runoff.

But neither the campaign—nor Walker, in the staffers’ telling—could control the most damaging, widely destructive force of all: his past.

“Auntie Veronica”

It was late August. After a summer of bruising headlines and a series of personal scandals—any one of which, in one aide’s view, “very likely would have ended it all for a typical candidate”—the Walker campaign was hoping to focus the candidate on his upcoming debate and closing arguments to voters in the critical final weeks before the election.

But part of Walker seemed obsessed with the past. Especially one paragraph in an early July report from The Daily Beast—and he was on the warpath.

The report revealed that the football legend had denied the existence of two children to his own campaign staff, who had been left to their own devices to field new allegations of other secret kids.

Almost all those allegations were readily dismissed, the report said, but one stood out. “Because senior staff no longer trust Walker’s denials, the campaign has quietly investigated the anonymous allegation behind the candidate’s back,” the story reported.

The Daily Beast has since independently confirmed that Walker is not the father of the particular woman alleged to be his child. But for whatever reason, that one sentence—“...the campaign has quietly investigated the anonymous allegation behind the candidate’s back”—was on Walker and Blanchard’s minds for months.

At the time of the report, the campaign was simply doing its best to help Walker navigate the scandals, according to three advisers familiar with the events. But his stinginess with the truth denied them the tools to do their jobs.

“He didn’t give us what we needed to defend him,” one staffer said, noting that aides had long ago stopped asking Walker whether allegations were true.

“The frustration for us is that, if he had been honest with us, we could have been better equipped to protect him,” another staffer explained. “But he felt like we didn’t deserve the truth.”

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This staffer noted that Walker appeared “naturally mistrustful” and at times even “paranoid” on the campaign trail, particularly when under the influence of his spouse.

The aide pointed out that Walker had always been a star—a gifted athlete and household name in Georgia by the age of 16—and he appeared to have developed this general, abiding distrust of others over decades of navigating a world where “everyone wanted a piece of him.”

“It shows how naive he was about his relationship with the media,” the person said, adding that Walker—accustomed to ESPN and Sports Illustrated—“misunderstood how tough political media” could be on politicians, especially those with a past as incendiary and abnormal as his.

“He assumed that with anything that came up, he would just be able to charm his way out of it, and it did come as a surprise to him,” the staffer continued, referencing the parade of explosive reporting on Walker’s past that began weeks before he announced his bid. “That could be naivete, overconfidence, or a mix of both, but it also created a barrier where we were simply unable to get through to him.”

And so, The Daily Beast—along with a handful of other outlets—also looked into this allegation of a fifth child. While the claim couldn’t be discarded out of hand, it also proved difficult to verify, and in late July, we tabled our investigation.

But one month later, while the campaign was trying to pave a winning path to the election, the candidate and his inner circle were consumed with the story.

On Aug. 31, that alleged fifth child’s mother—who in early July had denied Walker was the father—called this reporter out of the blue. She had just received a call from Walker himself, she said, and he had personally advised her to sue for defamation. (The Daily Beast had not printed any details about the woman or her daughter beyond the fact that the campaign took the tip seriously, but a lawyer soon followed up with a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney for Walker.)

Upon receiving the threat, The Daily Beast notified the campaign that Walker had apparently advised this woman to sue a reporter for a claim that had never been printed. A staff member confirmed that Walker’s inner circle, including Blanchard, had been discussing the issue that morning.

“That nonsense is bubbling up again,” the person said at the time.

Days later, Walker’s sister, Veronica, reached out to the alleged secret daughter, someone she had never contacted before, asking her to turn over her text messages with The Daily Beast from early July, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

When the daughter refused to do so, the two people said, Veronica Walker sent her a money order for $200, along with a handwritten letter indicating that the money was to help with her kids. She signed the note, “Auntie Veronica.” (The Daily Beast has obtained copies of the money order and letter.)

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The Daily Beast reached out to Veronica Walker for comment. A read receipt indicated she saw the text message, but she did not reply. Herschel Walker also did not respond to requests for comment.

When The Daily Beast informed staffers this week that Walker’s sister reached out to the woman who was thought to be another Walker child and had sent her money, they were stunned.

“His sister did what?” one person asked.

It’s unclear why this July story exercised such a strong grip on Walker, especially after we iced the investigation. But it wasn’t the only time Blanchard went rogue.

The day before the mother’s legal threat, Blanchard was in contact with a different mother. This one—actually the mother of one of Walker’s confirmed secret children, first revealed in a June report—got texts from Blanchard asking about this reporter.

“Can you please call regarding Roger Sollenberber [sic]?” Blanchard wrote in a text message. (Blanchard had sent another text five days earlier asking the woman if they could “connect.”) The mother replied she would call later that evening, but has since confirmed they never spoke.

The Walker campaign apparently only learned about Blanchard’s texts with this woman a month later, when The Daily Beast reported on Oct. 3 that this same woman had come forward to claim that Walker urged her to abort their first pregnancy, in 2009, and later paid her for it. She provided a “get well” card, a clinic receipt, and a check from Walker—along with that Aug. 30 text exchange with Blanchard, also referenced in the report.

One adviser said that Blanchard’s high-risk secret outreach to the woman appeared to have blindsided senior staff, who by that point had battled both Blanchard and Walker for months over strategy, messaging, and what staffers described as a crippling lack of transparency.

The wheels on the bus

Blanchard, along with Walker and campaign chair Beagle—“no one really knows where she came from,” one staffer said—had created their own bubble within the campaign. They developed a bus tour, inspired, according to two staffers, by former President Donald Trump’s bus tour ahead of the 2020 election, but which a Walker aide dismissed as “small-minded and expensive.”

Another staffer observed that the bus came at a greater cost: Access to Walker.

“The bus was such a toxic environment because it was a way to isolate him, get him away from his campaign people and with people who, quote, ‘knew him the best,’” this staffer said.

While those people were outwardly concerned with managing Walker’s “mood,” the staffer said, the bus was ground zero for “feeding Herschel paranoia,” a word that everyone interviewed for this article ascribed to Blanchard.

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Blanchard had a seemingly endless supply of bad ideas, according to three staffers. For instance, they said, she believed Walker could take 50 percent of the Black vote, an outrageous proposition given Georgia’s recent political history. Walker, for his part, thought he could get 20 percent, one staffer said, observing that wasn’t much more realistic. (NBC exit polls showed Walker claiming half that number in the general election.)

Another staffer described “a lot of big-picture meddling,” with Blanchard and Beagle “getting involved with things they didn’t need to worry about,” including event logistics, meaningless errands, and “gatekeeping” for access to the candidate.

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Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Beagle’s most publicly impactful decision, however, may have come in the debate. She was the person who advised Walker to flash his honorary deputy badge on the stage, according to two staffers with knowledge of the decision. Another staffer said “completely unclear where the badge idea came from,” and that Beagle was not a prime suspect.

While that moment offered fodder for headline writers, comedians, and Warnock himself, it also temporarily dislodged the most potentially damaging news cycle yet—the abortion allegation.

“It seemed like people didn’t care”

All five advisers said it was not fully clear why Walker hadn’t come clean to them about the abortions, while simultaneously plunging headlong into his absolutist, no-exceptions anti-abortion platform—a position that every other GOP Senate battleground contender tried to soften in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Curiously—unlike the candidate’s hyperconservative son—none of Walker’s staff engaged directly with the question of the conservative hypocrisy more broadly, with the exception of one person, who called it the “first time during a campaign I’ve ever felt dirty.”

In hindsight, they all said, they would have urged Walker to take the road of redemption and forgiveness, rather than denial. One person said the campaign had cut the ad they deployed in response to the report, in which Walker appeals to religious redemption, weeks in advance, anticipating exactly such a story would drop.

According to an October Politico report, the campaign had a heads-up about the allegation. But staffers disputed that report vehemently to The Daily Beast, saying the team had no actionable knowledge.

Walker’s adult son, conservative influencer Christian Walker, told The Daily Beast that while he had raised the possibility to the campaign in early 2022 of past abortions coming out, he “had no idea” about the two women who later came forward.

“I told them that it was possible that there were abortions out there, but I was not referencing any of the ones that came out. I had no idea about those,” Christian Walker said in an email.

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Blanchard also wanted to bring North Carolina lieutenant governor Mark Robinson to the table, another staffer said. Robinson, another Black Republican politician in a southern state, had admitted to paying for an abortion. He joined Walker on the trail in the final weeks of the runoff.

But the external forces against Walker by that point were already well documented. They’d taken the form of a drumroll of dramatic headlines about Walker’s shady personal life, domestic violence allegations, and serial lies about his businesses and his past, as well as his penchant for incoherence that made the celebrity athlete a fixture of late-night comedy shows. Two staffers speculated that, in the case of the abortion allegation, those stories ultimately may have worked in Walker’s favor, softening the blow of what the campaign anticipated would be the most damaging account of all.

“We didn’t feel like it got the reaction we were expecting,” one of those staffers said. “It seemed like people didn’t care, and we immediately felt like our bigger job was going to be cleanup from the article but not doing something stupid in response to it.”

While polls showed Walker took a hit, the staffer observed that the story “didn’t necessarily stick” among a critical section of voters, reasoning that, despite Walker’s anomalous hardline anti-abortion platform, “the perception that this is a shady, hypocritical guy was already baked in.”

Blame game

Even before all the campaign offices were emptied, and the staff embarked on long-awaited vacations and family time, the autopsies had begun.

“The whole thing is sad,” one staffer reflected. “I don’t think that him running was a good idea.”

Christian Walker shared that perspective, and had choice words for the Republicans he sees as selfishly and callously complicit in the personal and political disaster that unfolded over the last year.

“I think most people who pushed him to run were doing so for their own personal interests. They thought they could take credit for his win and/or utilize his win for their own personal gain, if he wound up winning,” Christian Walker said. “I don't believe it was in the interest of the party or anyone but themselves.”

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Staff agreed generally that Walker could have used more outside support from influential GOP officials down the stretch, but were grateful for the handful of surrogates who pitched in. As for the role of outside groups like the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Senate Leadership Fund—who have been pitted against each other in recent reports—the verdicts were split, with three staffers saying the NRSC was getting a bad rap in the press.

One staffer noted that Warnock didn’t get enough credit, observing that the reverend had on-camera appeal and built out an impressive political machine. And for all the complaints about imbalanced spending, the person added, Walker had the strongest fundraising performance of any GOP midterm candidate nationwide.

“Anybody who suggests it would be easy for anyone else to have won is wrong,” the person said.

Top Walker surrogate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—whom staff said the campaign had paired with Walker in TV appearances to lend the unpolished candidate a more “senatorial” air—took a similar view.

Asked whether he had regrets about his role pushing Walker to run, Graham told The Daily Beast he had “none.”

“We’ve lost three runoffs in a row in Georgia—Perdue, Loeffler, and Walker… so no, the answer is no,” he said.

That lack of regret was one thing Graham had in common with the women who felt a responsibility to come forward during the campaign and tell voters about the Herschel Walker they knew.

“Finally, this violent liar, cheater, adulterer, abuser and deranged, manipulative idiot has been defeated,” one Walker ex-girlfriend told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “As a victim of this disgusting liar, I finally feel relieved, vindicated, and not alone.”

Sam Brodey contributed to this report.

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