Five thoughts on why Todd Akin matters

August 22, 2012

1. It's important to understand Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) comments in terms of the policy they're defending. Akin believes that there should be no exceptions in abortion laws. But nearly all Americans believe there should be exceptions for rape. For truly consistent antiabortion advocates, that's a real problem. But if you narrow the definition of rape to "forcible rape," and if you convince yourself that forcible rape doesn't result in pregnancies, then you can have an antiabortion bill that satisfies the public's desire for exceptions but doesn't lead to any actual exceptions. It's magical thinking, but it's magical thinking with a purpose.


Photo: AP

2. In 2010, the tea party forced the nomination of three Senate candidates -- Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware -- who lost elections they might well have won. If those elections had gone the other way, Mitch McConnell (Ky.) might be majority leader today. This year, the tea party knocked out Dick Lugar and nominated Todd Akin, which could, potentially, keep Republicans from taking the Senate again. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) owes these people a fruit basket.

3. The cost of nominating bad candidates is arguably larger this year because their mistakes get nationalized. A candidate like Akin would have been a story in 2010, but a small one. He's a major story in 2012 because he connects to the presidential ticket. If political reporters didn't see potentially national implications in his comments, the story would've died out in the mainstream media after a day.

4. The problem for Romney-Ryan is that Akin connects to their ticket in two ways.

First, the source for Akin's wacky theory that the female reproductive systems has an organic spermicide hidden behind a red case marked "break in case of legitimate rape" is probably Jack C. Willke, a physician and former president of the National Right to Life Committee. In 2008, WIllke endorsed Romney and was described by the campaign as "a leading voice within the pro-life community and will be an important surrogate for Governor Romney's pro-life and pro-family agenda."

Second, Akin's comments have led to much closer scrutiny of legislative efforts that have, thus far, not attracted much public scrutiny. The "forcible rape" language and the personhood amendments are good examples. But now those efforts are on front pages of newspapers nationwide. And it turns out that one of the very few legislators with a purer antiabortion voting record than Akin is...Paul Ryan.

5. Is Akin and the related "war on women" narrative to the 2012 election what the same-sex marriage ballot initiatives were to the 2004 election? Maybe! On the other hand, there's some evidence that the gay marriage ballot initiatives were more of a media narrative than a player in the campaign, and perhaps that will prove true here, too. Either way, the reversal in the "cultural politics" space in the last eight years is stunning. The conventional wisdom is that Democrats lost in 2004 because voters thought they were too pro-gay marriage (though they didn't support gay marriage) and too pro-abortion rights. If Romney and Ryan lose, there's a good chance that the conventional wisdom will be the precise opposite.

 

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Sarah Kliff · August 22, 2012