U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker pulled out of a weekend event organized by U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene after she spoke at a white nationalist rally where attendees cheered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and chanted Vladimir Putin’s name.
Walker had planned to speak Saturday at Greene’s “Second Amendment and Freedom Rally” in Rome alongside U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, strategist Stephen Bannon and other far-right figures.
But his campaign told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that he will no longer participate in the rally, which was to promote a gun rights expansion in Georgia. His campaign spokeswoman offered no additional comment.
Other Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, said they still plan to attend.
Walker’s decision is just the latest sign that Republicans in Georgia and across the nation are distancing themselves from Greene, who has a long history of hateful, xenophobic and anti-Semitic remarks, along with social media posts endorsing violence against political opponents.
U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republican figures have condemned her decision to speak at the America First Political Action Conference, a group organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
McCarthy said Greene should have ditched the event as soon as Fuentes introduced her Friday by urging the crowd to give a “round of applause for Russia,” triggering an ovation and a boisterous chant for Putin.
McConnell, who endorsed Walker, said “there’s no place in the Republican Party for white supremacists or anti-Semitism,” though he didn’t single out Greene or Arizona U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, who also spoke at the rally.
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee for president in 2012, offered perhaps the harshest criticism of Greene and Gosar: “Morons. I have morons on my team,” he said on CNN of the two.
Romney added, “And I have to think anybody that would sit down with white nationalists and speak at their conference was certainly missing a few IQ points.”
‘Poison in the bloodstream’
In the past election cycle, Republican rivals Doug Collins and Kelly Loeffler battled each other for Greene’s endorsement despite her hateful history and embrace of the deluded QAnon conspiracy theory.
But Walker, ahead of his GOP rivals in polls and fundraising, can afford to distance himself from Greene as he prepares for a potential November matchup against Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.
In the Georgia Senate, several GOP politicians joined the chorus condemning Greene. State Sen. Russ Goodman said it was “unfathomable” to hear Americans celebrate Russia’s invasion of a U.S. ally. And Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan drew bipartisan applause for his response.
“Vladimir Putin is a selfish, brutal dictator, and anybody who would tell you otherwise is lying,” he said. “I call on this country, I call on this state, I call on this chamber to stand in support of the Ukrainian country as they fight for freedom.”
Not all senior Georgia Republicans have taken this stance. Perdue, who is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp, said through a spokeswoman that he would attend to highlight the “need to protect the Second Amendment and expand our God-given right to bear arms.”
“Given the invasion in Ukraine, we see the need to protect it now more than ever,” Perdue campaign spokeswoman Jenni Sweat said.
That’s a stark contrast from Walker’s top Republican rival, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who said in an interview that Greene should be treated as a pariah.
“Her ideas, her associations and her utter lack of wisdom and judgment are a poison in the bloodstream of our party,” Black said. “I believe this behavior is a distraction and an embarrassment.”