“This is a good test. We’re hierarchical. We respect authority. It will be interesting to see if our authority has become so disrespected that Akin can stay in the race,” said Ed Rogers, a former Reagan and George H.W. Bush White House adviser who now chairs the Barbour, Griffith, Rogers lobbying firm.
Senior GOP strategists in Missouri and Washington hunkered down Wednesday for what they expect could be a week or more of waiting, first to see if Akin can raise enough money to continue his Senate bid, and then for polls to indicate how much damage the affair has done to their chances of toppling the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill.
This latest example of fraying party power comes at the worst possible moment for the GOP, highlighting tensions between the Republican establishment and some of the party’s most conservative activists as Romney is about to be crowned the presidential nominee next week in Tampa.
The firestorm erupted Sunday when Akin told a television interviewer in St. Louis that he opposes abortion, even in cases when the pregnancy resulted from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said, adding that even if the woman became pregnant, “the punishment ought to be of the rapist and not attacking the child.”
The denunciations came from far and wide, including from Romney, who urged Akin to “consider what course would be in the best interest of our country.” The congressman apologized repeatedly but refused to quit.
Romney’s own influence in the party, already in doubt among some social conservatives because of his moderate stewardship as Massachusetts governor, is also on the line as Akin continues to defy him and the rest of the GOP leadership.
The flare-up also has driven the party off-message at a time when it had hoped to focus the campaign on President Obama’s handling of the economy.
“We’re a pro-life party, but we’re much more focused on getting the economy back on track,” said Nathan Conrad, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party.
Akin has complicated that message for the GOP this week, forcing Republicans across the country to issue one rejection of him after another.
Not that long ago, both Republicans and Democrats had the kind of party apparatus that had more leverage in choosing candidates and, if something went awry, was more forceful in pushing them aside for more viable alternatives.