A new wave of celebrity politicians breaks the rules on acceptable behavior, inspired by Trump

After two former girlfriends accused Herschel Walker, the Georgia Republican Senate nominee and former football star, of pressuring them to get abortions, and giving them money for the procedures, Walker’s standing with conservative voters would have been expected to dip.

One reason is that Walker has taken an absolutist position on abortion – no abortions should be legal, even in the case of incest or rape or the health of the mother, he has said.

Instead, Walker has denied the allegations, and they appear to have boosted his odds of winning rather than diminished them. Why? Because he’s not a politician – he’s a celebrity.

We are sociocultural anthropologists who have studied white-collar crime and political corruption in the U.S. and Latin America. We can confidently say candidates like Walker, whose rule-breaking might have doomed a candidate in earlier times, benefit from a template developed by former President Donald Trump, who figured out how to turn celebrity status into political success.

This formula, which helped to transform Trump from a real estate mogul and celebrity TV character into the leader of the Republican Party, involves getting the public to register transgressive behavior as entertainment.

By adopting this template, several Trump-backed celebrity candidates have translated their personal fame into support from Trump’s base in the 2022 midterms.

A close look at Walker; Kari Lake, the GOP gubernatorial candidate in Arizona; and Mehmet Oz, the Republican senate candidate in Pennsylvania known as Dr. Oz, reflects how Trump has led politics down a path that not only prioritizes personality over policy, but also rewards celebrity politicians for behaving badly.