Credit: Riley Bunch, GPB News
Herschel Walker's 'bad air' comments the latest in series of policy gaffes
Republican U.S. Senate nominee Herschel Walker's viral comments about polluted "bad air" floating to China is the latest misstep for a campaign seeking to overcome an avalanche of negative stories and his penchant for controversial statements.
Walker is locked in a close battle against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in one of the most important Senate races in this November's midterm cycle.
Speaking at a Hall County GOP event Saturday that the campaign barred media from attending, Walker said that COVID-19 was "created by China" and that it was not a good use of money to tackle air pollution through the Democrats' sweeping "Green New Deal" proposal because China and other countries would not do the same.
"Since we don't control the air, our good air decided to float over to China's bad air, so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move," Walker said. "So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we got we to clean that back up."
But that's not how air pollution works. Reducing (or adding) pollution in one country affects the entire globe, and the United States' air, clean or otherwise, does not just decide to "float" over to China and vice versa.
China and the United States are some of the world's biggest polluters, though both have made strides in recent years to reverse their emission trends.
The Air Quality Life Index at the University of Chicago says that China is the 10th most polluted country in the world, but the Chinese government's "war against pollution" over the last decade has seen a nearly 40% decline in particulate pollution. Since the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1970, the United States' particulate pollution has dropped more than 60%.
After a day of mockery online, Walker's campaign staff tried to walk back the first-time candidate's remarks, claiming he "called out China for being the world's No. 1 polluter and for unleashing the deadly coronavirus pandemic," despite recorded remarks showing otherwise.
Walker's dubious claims about air pollution and China were not one-off remarks, but rather a regular feature of his stump speech. According to a review of audio from more than a dozen recent campaign events, Walker regularly discussed "rotation" of air that the U.S. can't "control" and blamed China and India for "bad air."
"No matter how much money we put into controlling our air, it goes over to China or to somewhere else, and it messes up," Walker said in Statesboro in May. "All of a sudden, it comes back over here."
At a Valdosta meet and greet, he decried "bad air" that would "float back over" while telling another crowd in St. Simons that "we don't control this air" and that bad air "flows over to our space and our good air" and told the Fulton County Republican Women in March that "the thing about air, if you don't control the air, the air just blows and all that."
Walker also has repeated a misleading claim that the U.S. has "some of the cleanest" air and water in the world as rationale for opposing Democrats' climate change proposals.
According to the Yale Environmental Performance Index, the United States only ranks 43rd out of 180 countries in overall environmental quality and 16th in air quality.
Beyond Walker's campaign stump speech mentioning air pollution, only a brief overall policy around energy can be found on his website.
"Gas and energy prices are skyrocketing as a result of bad Democratic energy policy decisions," it reads. "If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past year, America cannot depend on other countries for our essential resources, including energy. Herschel will fight to make America energy independent once again, leading to lower gas prices, more American jobs being brought back from overseas, and stronger national security."
Walker's most recent gaffe made the rounds on the same day his campaign announced a retooled senior leadership team and follows an explosive Daily Beast report alleging that Walker lied to his own campaign about the number of children he had, after the outlet reported three previously undisclosed children.
The article also said internal communications showed advisers do not trust Walker to be honest or to handle campaign events and expressed concerns about his mental fitness to run for office.
Walker's campaign has largely been conducted behind closed doors and without much mainstream media access since he entered the race last August. He refused to debate his opponents on the way to a blowout primary win and has so far ignored requests to schedule debates for the general election despite promising to face Warnock.
When Walker has done interviews, they gain traction for often nonsensical statements he's made while answering questions, such as saying there are 52 states, musing that a solution to school shootings include "a department that can look at young men that's looking at women that's looking at social media" and responding to a reporter's question about gun laws that “what I like to do is see it and everything and stuff."
Then there's Walker's biography and personal backstory, which includes numerous falsehoods and fabrications, ranging from overstated business records, false claims about graduating from the University of Georgia and his record in high school, claims he was in law enforcement and more.
Walker is currently one of the top fundraising Republicans in the country and polling shows a virtually deadlocked race roughly four months out from the election.