“It’s very tough for people like me who are pro-choice Republicans. It’s admittedly not a large caucus. But when I have to see a story like Todd Akin, and then turn to my wife and my daughters, who are looking at me and saying, `Really? These are the kind of people you’re associating with in the Republican Party?’ That’s a problem.”

That was GOP strategist Mark McKinnon talking to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC just now, deftly capturing the mess Todd Akin has created for the GOP and the Romney/Ryan campaign.

Indeed, Ryan is now doing his part to clean up this mess, and so far, he’s not doing a good job of it. In a Pittsburgh TV interview, he was pressed to comment on legislation he co-sponsored with Akin which defined abortion exceptions as “an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest.” That language was pulled after an outcry. Ryan dodged:

QUESTION: You sponsored legislation that has the language “forcible rape.” What is forcible rape as opposed…

RYAN: Rape is rape. Rape is rape, period. End of story.

QUESTION: So that forcible rape language meant nothing to you at the time?

RYAN: Rape is rape and there’s no splitting hairs over rape.

As Steve Benen asked: “If there’s no splitting hairs over rape, why did Paul Ryan help champion legislation that would have split hairs over rape?”

It gets worse. In this interview, Ryan distanced himself from the proposal he co-sponsored with Akin. And yet, elsewhere in the very same interview, Ryan stood by his anti-abortion record in Congress.

Asked if abortions should be available to women who are raped, Ryan responded: “I stand by my pro-life record in Congress. It’s something I’m proud of. But Mitt Romney will be president, and he will set the policy of the Romney administration.”

So Ryan no longer agrees with a bill he co-sponsored and refuses to discuss what it meant, but he stands by his views and record, anyway. (Sentence fixed.) As for Ryan’s suggestion that Romney will set policy, if Romney wins, Ryan will be a heartbeat away from the presidency. So aren’t his views rather relevant here?

That aside, all these contortions suggest the Romney campaign is well aware that the Akin mess poses a risk to the GOP ticket, focusing national scrutiny on Ryan’s anti-abortion views — and on the GOP platform’s opposition to the rape exception, which might have otherwise attracted little attention. And the gender gap is already wide.

GOP strategist McKinnon, on MSNBC, spelled out the problem this poses for the GOP convention in particular. “This is the opportunity where Republicans have to get the attention of a lot of middle America, a lot of independent voters, a lot of persuadable voters,” he said. “The idea is to show a big tent, a lot of tolerance and diversity, and to reach out to women.” McKinnon added that Akin is “putting a big spotlight exactly where Republicans don’t want it right now.”

Michael O’Brien points out that the new NBC/WSJ poll also shows the GOP brand taking a hit, with a majority saying Romney and GOP Congressional candidates are “out of step” with most Americans’ thinking, and historically high numbers with a very negative view of the party. The convention is exactly the time and place to soften these impressions, but as McKinnon noted, the Akin story has caused these issues to surface with a vengeance at exactly the wrong moment.