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Almost Anyone Can Be a U.S. Senator (There May Be New Evidence Pretty Soon)

The Constitution has three requirements to be a member of the U.S. Senate. You have to be at least 30 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for at least 9 years, and — by the time of the election — live in the state you will represent (so it’s perfectly fine if you live in New Jersey but, for some vague reason, are running for the Senate in Pennsylvania). Competence and interest in the job aren’t required.

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post asks what it means that a well-known, former football player (who meets the three qualifications) is running for the Senate in Georgia:

In the race for U.S. Senate in Georgia, Republican nominee Herschel Walker is forcing people to ask: Just how clueless is too clueless to serve in Congress? And what would it mean if our national legislature was filled with people like Walker?

The former football star’s campaign has been a series of howlers and head-scratchers, the latest of which is his argument against the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act: “They continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out. But they’re not … Because a lot of money it’s going to trees … Don’t we have enough trees around here?”

The possibility that Georgians are fed up with all their trees notwithstanding, no one says that Walker is the first office-seeker to lack even the most rudimentary understanding of policy or the issues he would confront. And there is in fact some money in the IRA to promote trees, including urban “heat islands” where a lack of shade trees increases temperatures.

But Walker’s comments on policy have been particularly colorful, including his thoughts on China hurting our environment by taking “our good air” and his proposal to address school shootings with “a department that can look at young men that’s looking at women that’s looking at social media.” Then there’s his recent debunking of evolution: “If that is true, why are there still apes? Think about it.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently predicted his party might not win control of the chamber, saying “candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome” of these races. No one doubted that Walker was one of the candidates he had in mind.

Yet Walker is hardly the only one; since so much rides on former president T____’s endorsement in Republican primaries and the most important qualification for winning that endorsement is an embrace of his conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, from coast to coast we’ve seen the party’s nominations won by crackpots and halfwits, perhaps more than ever before.

What would it mean if a bunch of these people actually won?

The greatest danger lies in executive positions such as governor and secretary of state, where they would have the power to steal elections and create all kinds of other disasters. But it’s not immediately clear that a Republican-controlled Congress dominated by the party’s worst and dimmest would be appreciably different from one led by its best and brightest, or at the very least its marginally clever.

There are multiple ways to be a terrible legislator, and being a dolt is only one of them. For instance, until 2021, Georgia was represented in the Senate by Republican David Perdue, who in his six years in the chamber wrote just a few bills that became law, including one to create a parking lot at the National Zoo and another renaming a post office. Georgians were left to wonder what, if anything, Perdue was actually doing in Washington, and when given the chance they tossed him out.

Perdue wasn’t too dumb to legislate; the job just didn’t seem to grab his interest. The truth is that while it doesn’t hurt to be smart if you’re a senator, you don’t have to be. You can let other people write the laws, and just have your party’s leadership or the hosts on Fox News tell you which way to vote when the time comes.

Today’s Republican Party also contains a cadre of extremely smart politicians educated at the most prestigious universities, people such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas (Princeton undergrad, Harvard Law School), Tom Cotton of Arkansas (Harvard undergrad and law school) and Josh Hawley of Missouri (Stanford undergrad, Yale Law School), who spend most of their time trying to Own the Libs, because they see that as the path to success in their party.

Which may be the smart thing to do if you’re a Republican who wants to run for president. And it shows the problem: When there are few incentives to do the hard work of legislating to address complex policy challenges, even the smart people see advantage in pretending to be stupid.

There’s a critical imbalance here as well: As members of the party that believes in government, Democrats know their supporters expect them to produce results, and as we’ve seen this year, that takes a lot of doing. Some may be better at it than others, but all are expected to demonstrate their commitment to the process.

Liberal voters also tend to value intellect in a way conservative voters just don’t. They may not always choose the smartest person (if they did, Sen. Elizabeth Warren would have been their 2020 presidential nominee). But they’re far less likely to fall for a politician telling them that all their problems can be solved by nurturing their resentment of supposedly snooty “elites.”

So the truth is that while Walker would probably displace Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) as the widely acknowledged dopiest member of the Senate if he were elected, that’s not why he’s such a threat. It’s not even Walker’s extraordinary record of telling easily disprovable lies. It’s the fact that if he wins it could mean Congress being in control of a party that elevates people like him.

The problem isn’t Walker, it’s that the Republican Party is dominated by politicians who in one way or another resemble him. His party doesn’t just tolerate ignorance and dishonesty, it often seems to want nothing more….

Unquote.

According to the FiveThirtyEight site, Georgia opinion polls say the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock (a longtime Baptist minister and political activist with a PhD in theology, who has never threatened his wife with a gun, hasn’t lied about how many children he has and has never played football for the University of Georgia), has a small lead over Herschel Walker, after trailing in the Spring.

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