Akin and Palin and Cheney, oh my! Republicans’ past comes back to bite them.


This May 17, 2011 file photo shows then-Rep. Todd Akin announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, file)

Remember Todd Akin from 2012? He's back. And Sarah Palin from 2008? She never really left. How about Dick Cheney, who left office in 2009 with his approval rating in the basement? He's here too.

As the Republican Party nears the stretch run of the 2014 midterm campaign poised to retain control of the House and in close competition for the Senate majority, one of its biggest challenges has been the return to the national spotlight of figures with lots of baggage and the potential to reignite controversy.

Take Akin. The former Missouri congressman is making the media rounds promoting his new book. So far, he's taken back his apology for suggesting "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy, compared himself to the late senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), accused the media of unfairly attacking him and doubled down on the opinions that destroyed his Senate campaign in 2012 and caused headaches for the larger GOP.

Akin's not just talking to small-time media outlets: He was on MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown" on Thursday morning.

Republicans keen on keeping the focus on unpopular President Obama and his policies are not happy with Akin's reemergence. They see it as a distraction with the potential to re-open old wounds and fuel Democratic attacks. On Twitter, many voiced their unhappiness:

Then there's Palin, who last week called for the impeachment of Obama. She wasn't the first Republican to do so, of course. But she was the highest-profile one.

Palin's remarks prompted questions for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who disagreed with the 2008 vice presidential nominee. They also undercut Boehner's proposed remedy: A lawsuit against the president for his use of executive power. Palin said that was too weak.

On the campaign trail, where Republicans want to keep the focus on Obama and his policies, the newly energized impeachment debate has complicated the campaigns of at least two GOP Senate candidates. In Iowa, state Sen. Joni Ernst was force to walk back her previous suggestion that she was open to impeachment. In Georgia, Rep. Jack Kingston's uncertain position on the issue has received widespread coverage during the past couple of days. Kingston is less than a week away from a runoff election.

Talk about impeachment is exactly what Republicans don't need right now. That's why more out of more than a dozen leading GOP Senate candidates canvassed by Post Politics in recent days, none embraced Palin's position. Democrats can label Republicans who embrace impeachment extremists who are overreaching. Conservative voters who favor impeachment may become frustrated with Republican candidates who don't vouch for it.

Basically, it's a no-win situation for the GOP.

One area the Republican Party could use to its advantage this election season is foreign policy. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found Obama's approval rating on international affairs had fallen to a paltry 41 percent against the backdrop of conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq.

One of Obama's most outspoken critics has been former vice president Dick Cheney. Cheney, along with daughter Liz, recently started a new organization designed to educate the public about they view as Obama's failures overseas.

But some Democrats see Cheney's outspokenness as a weakness for the Republican Party. In their view, it presents an opportunity to remind voters about the deeply unpopular Iraq war started during the administration of George W. Bush.

"Mr. Cheney has been incredibly adroit for the last six years or so attacking the administration for not doing an adequate job of cleaning up the mess that he made," former president Bill Clinton recently told NBC's David Gregory.

The near future could be very bright for Republicans. Picking up the six seats they need to win the Senate majority in November is looking increasingly possible. The GOP could also gain seats in the House.

But first, they have to shake off the cobwebs of the past. That's proving to be more difficult thanks to Akin, Palin and Cheney.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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