It’s a marriage made somewhere south of heaven and north of the infernal regions. Joined at the hip and at each others throats for most of the last 30 years, social conservatives and the rest of the Republican Party can’t seem to help themselves in forming circular firing squads when something like the Todd Akin foofaraw erupts. The fact that the GOP has lost only three presidential elections in that time frame is remarkable considering the quadrennial bloodletting in the primaries and the barely concealed platform fights that threaten to break into open warfare over social issues.
When the Todd Akin story broke, there was an immediate call from party regulars, most of the internet right, and the conservative punditocracy for the hapless congressman to take a very long walk off a very short pier and slip back into a well-deserved anonymity, leaving the race to someone who wouldn’t shoot himself in the head when aiming for his foot.
But something happened on the way to Akin’s withdrawal party: a bevy of social conservatives rallied to his side and insisted that his toxic remarks about rape and idiotic notions of female biology were, at most, a minor irritant and nothing for the “establishment” to go ballistic over.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was almost nonchalant about Akin’s nuclear bomb of a gaffe. “We’re talking about someone who misspoke,” Perkins said. I suppose that’s one way to put it. Another way to put it would be to say that Akin is a scientific illiterate with 19th century notions of rape and the towering lack of judgment not to know when to keep his ignorance to himself. “I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize,” Akin said. The problem is that it is impossible to apologize for being stupid. Nobody is buying the “I misspoke” defense because it was crystal clear — and will be made more so by Democrats from now until the election — that Akin believed what he said and the fact that he was informed afterward that he was wrong doesn’t cut it. “Now you tell me” isn’t a defense either.
Akin still might have withdrawn had former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee not rallied to his side and encouraged the candidate to leap off the cliff with the rest of the social right. Huckabee’s statement is a mind-boggling mixture of denial and spite.
The Party’s leaders have for reasons that aren’t rational, left [Akin] behind on the political battlefield, wounded and bleeding, a casualty of his self-inflicted, but not intentional wound. In a Party that supposedly stands for life, it was tragic to see the carefully orchestrated and systematic attack on a fellow Republican. Not for a moral failure or corruption or a criminal act, but for a misstatement which he contritely and utterly repudiated. I was shocked by GOP leaders and elected officials who rushed so quickly to end the political life of a candidate over a mistaken comment in an interview. This was a serious mistake, but it was blown out of proportion not by the left, but by Akin’s own Republican Party. Is this what the party really thinks of principled pro-life advocates? Do we forgive and forget the verbal gaffes of Republicans who are “conveniently pro-life” for political advantage, but crucify one who truly believes that every life is sacred?
Who ordered this “Code Red” on Akin? There were talking point memos sent from the National Republican Senatorial Committee suggesting language to urge Akin to drop out. Political consultants were ordered to stay away from Akin or lose future business with GOP committees. Operatives were recruited to set up a network of pastors to call Akin to urge him to get out. Money has changed hands to push him off the plank. It is disgraceful. From the spotlights of political offices and media perches, it may appear that the demand for Akin’s head is universal in the party. I assure you it is not. There is a vast, but mostly quiet army of people who have an innate sense of fairness and don’t like to see a fellow political pilgrim bullied.
What’s next, Mike. “We are the 30%”?
So despite the fact that GOP heavyweights from Mitt Romney down to Senator John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, were urging him to withdraw, Akin dug in his heels thanks to single-issue fanatics who see the campaign against the candidate as a personal affront, an attack on their issues. No doubt socons have a right to be paranoid. There are many in the party who wish that the economy and budget were front and center with social issues taking a back seat to the concerns of the vast majority of Americans who care about jobs. Now, apparently, the GOP has been forced into a debate on abortion — or at least Mr. Huckabee and his allies have placed the party in a position where they will be forced to defend the “no exceptions” abortion plank in the platform. The fact that only 20% of the country agrees with that stance means that as a practical political matter, the argument is a loser from the get-go, regardless of its “morality.” (Hint: Most people don’t like being branded “immoral” for holding a position different from social conservatives.)