Akin Fallout Turns GOP Economic Messaging on Its Head
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) has pledged to push forward alone if need be in his quest for a Senate seat. But the ripple effect of his "legitimate rape" scandal this week knocks the all-important campaign messaging war off-kilter for Republicans just days before the GOP is scheduled to gather in Tampa, Fla., to christen presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Pundits, pollsters, and oddsmakers alike generally agree that for Romney to stand a chance of pulling a second term out from under President Obama, he needs to focus squarely on the economy. With stagnant high unemployment and the Congressional Budget Office today reporting that 2012 will be the fourth consecutive year with a deficit exceeding $1 trillion, and with voters still feeling the sting from recession and wary of another downturn, the Romney campaign has worked with all its might to push and pull the conversation back to the economy every time another issue captures the headlines.
The Democrats' messaging blitzkrieg that Republicans were staging a "war on women" simmered down -- supplanted by economic debates such as the Bush-era tax cuts and deep defense cuts -- after the spring. The raging debate over the Health and Human Services contraception mandate, the Hill testimony of law student Sandra Fluke, and the responses of Rush Limbaugh and Foster Friess fueled the "war on women" meme, which was revived to a lesser degree during the Violence Against Women Act renewal fight before recess that didn't receive much media attention.
But just when Republicans seemed to be winning with the direction of the conversation, when the topic after the selection of vice presidential pick Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was a balanced budget and his "Path to Prosperity," the Akin scandal has fired a social-issues torpedo at convention week.
Akin's comments have trained eyes on select planks of the Republican platform drafted this week. Whereas the policies agreed upon bear little change from previous years, critics are using that platform as evidence that the GOP and the six-term renegade congressman are of one "radical" mind on social issues.
Whereas the national campaign wants deficit reduction, job creation, and a business-friendly environment to be the policies convention-watchers hear about most, the focus has already spun to social elements of the platform being adopted this week: a human-life amendment that would not infringe on the rights of the unborn, abstinence-only sex-ed for teens, and rejection of civil unions for gay couples.
One delegate argued before the platform committee that the morning-after pill for rape victims should be excluded from a plank advocating a ban on drugs used to terminate pregnancies. Jacqueline Curtiss from Alabama brought up the concern about the exception, she said, “in light of the recent comments by Congressman Todd Akin and in an attempt to reaffirm to the American people the party’s sensitivity to the subject of rape," reported Bloomberg. The committee agreed.
Democrats have been especially eager to take personal swings at anyone touched by Akin.
In nearly 5,000 votes over their history of concurrently serving in the House, Akin and Ryan voted together 93 percent of the time, compared to the 86 percent average for Republicans.
But it's one bill, introduced at the dawn of the 112th Congress, that included a definition of the word "rape" which served as the main piece of legislation in Democrats' arsenal.
H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on Jan. 20, 2011, was co-sponsored by 227 members including Ryan and Akin. The original language provided an exception "if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest."
By the time the bill made it to the House floor, though, the text had been modified to "if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest."
Still, Democrats were running with the lose connection between the congressmen as two of many co-sponsors on bill language that didn't even exist by the final vote.
"Those condemnations, they ring pretty hollow," Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said of Republicans bearing down on Akin. "When so many of them, including Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney's choice to run for vice president, over 200 Republicans co-sponsored the policy that reflects Todd Akin's sentiment."
"Paul Ryan and Todd Akin, like two peas in a pod, have endorsed the same legislation," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said on CNN. "…I guess a woman has to have black eyes and black and blue marks in order to actually claim that she was forcibly raped."
"Here's why I`m not that shocked that he's not dropping out. He has stood shoulder to shoulder with mainstream Republicans and I would say that includes Paul Ryan," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said yesterday on MSNBC. "In other words, the new mainstream is really extreme.
They were partners when it came to the personhood amendment. They were partners when it came to redefining rape, outlawing contraception, and so why -- he feels 'why should I get out, I'm being picked on but essentially I've just been saying what a lot of Republicans are thinking.' That's true."
Democrats quickly drew vague ideological parallels between Akin and Ryan as their evidence of a greater "war on women" culture in the GOP. But they are just as eager to use the scandal to take stabs at Romney, once pro-choice but now identifying as pro-life, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.
Dr. John C. Willke, president of the Life Issues Institute, wrote a 1999 article on women being unlikely to get pregnant from "forcible rape," and defended that theory in interviews this week. "She’s, shall we say, she’s uptight,” Willke told the New York Times. “She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.”
Willke, a former president of the National Right to Life Committee, was named "an important surrogate" of the Romney campaign in 2007 "for Governor Romney's pro-life and pro-family agenda.”
An Organizing for America fundraising email, with Fluke's name in the subject line, went out to supporters Wednesday evening saying Romney supporters and advisers "stood silently by" while the GOP platform "in lockstep with Akin" was adopted.
"Without knowing me or my story, Rush Limbaugh called me a 'slut' and a 'prostitute' on his radio show," Fluke wrote in the campaign pitch. "Many Americans stepped forward to tell me they agreed with me, and supported my right to speak out without being verbally attacked. President Obama stood with us. Mitt Romney, on the other hand? He didn't even condemn the remark, instead saying only: 'It's not the language I would have used.'"
The email also cited the original text of H.R. 3 and blamed Ryan for co-sponsoring with Akin.
"Akin's comments shouldn't be surprising. But this isn't about him -- just like it was never about me," wrote Fluke.
Meanwhile, the messaging of the man behind the campaign temblor became more muddled with each media appearance he did today.
"Let me say that legitimate does not -- should not be in the context of rape at all," he said on NBC's Today show.
When asked by George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America whether he'd get out of the race before a Sept. 25 deadline that would need a court order, Akin said, "I'm never going to say everything that can possibly happen. I don't know the future."
When pressed if that meant he was still open to getting out, Akin said, "Well, I have made the decision to stay in."
"The word legitimate doesn't ever have a good reason to be standing next to rape," the congressman added. "There is no rape that is legitimate."