With Congressman Todd Akin defiantly remaining in the race for the Senate seat in Missouri against incumbent Claire McCaskill, the question isn’t a question of how he’s able to recover from the mess that he created. His comments during an interview, brought to national attention by Talking Point Memos, about “legitimate rape,” pregnancies and abortions have pretty much destroyed his chances of coming back from that. The sheer inflammatory nature of his comments will always be louder than any apology he could make for them.
Although the Republican party leadership is rushing to distance themselves from him, with Senator John Cornyn, Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, cutting off funding to that once-likely win for the GOP, and Party Chairman Reince Preibus telling the Congressman he isn’t welcome at the upcoming convention, wishing he would just go away, how do they really and truly distance themselves from him? Considering the fact that President Barack Obama is already trying to tie his opponent, former Governor Mitt Romney, to a view of women’s health that is so dated it belongs in the 1950s, it is undoubtedly clear that Congressman Akin has handed a gift to the Democrats this election cycle. After all, he isn’t a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. He has co-sponsored abortion and rape bills with Governor Romney’s running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, in the past. That will unquestionably be something that’s fair game, forcing the Wisconsin Congressman to answer distracting questions about his own views and having to distance himself from Akin again and again.
But then had Akin’s political savvy and intelligence been called into question just by making these comments, there is absolutely no such question left by the fact that he is staying in the race. He has forced his party to abandon him and their hopes of winning that race, left not only to distance themselves but essentially ravage him in front of the media, perhaps even more than the Democrats and Senator McCaskill need to. At this point the Democratic Party need only mention his name and watch the feeding frenzy begin.
Considering Congressman Akin has yet to step aside, and today is the deadline for the Missouri GOP to replace him, about the only thing left for them to do is to take it to court. Under Missouri election law, the only way to replace a candidate if they don’t resign their candidacy before the prescribed deadline is if “he is removed or replaced as provided by law.” Even that is a tough case to make though, because he qualifies under all the laws to be a legitimate candidate.
First off the national party needs to be unified in their message. This means essentially shutting down people like Congressman Steve King of Iowa who chose to not only comment on it but try and justify Congressman Akin or put his comments in a different context. There is no damage control that is going to be able to make him come out of this unscathed, and the reality is that they need to so far distance him from the mainstream of the Republican Party that it places Akin far on the fringe. There is no reforming his image before November and if he proceeds to run in this race, they need to let him crash and burn on his own without taking any one else down with him.
Senator Cornyn, Governor Romney and Chairman Preibus have begun the process of taking a tough stance. They need their GOP colleagues to do the same now, offering him no safe harbor or refuge within the party.
Secondly, even if there is no legal remedy for them to get him off the ballot, the state and the national party still need to try. Yes, it extends the lifecycle of the story, putting a Republican horror story up to the forefront. Still, in doing so, they are able to project the image that they are doing everything they can to get rid of him, as both an embarrassment and as someone they refuse to let speak for the party. Yes, a legal battle, especially one that puts this at center stage, may go further to ensuring McCaskill’s win, but it has two ways of working out.
One is that Congressman Akin stays in the race and is allowed to go down in flames. Essentially that would be cutting off the gangrenous arm before it infects the entire body. The other is that he steps down before September 25th, the final day when the courts can allow for a party to replace the name on the ballot and they end up with a stronger candidate than the Congressman to finish out this race.
Finally the Republican ticket needs to come back hard on this issue. Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan need to adopt a tough stance on rape and rape support. This includes meeting with women’s advocacy and counseling groups that will meet with them. They need to show a modern, and, let’s face it, a forward looking approach that is far removed from Congressman Akin, and about the only way they are going to do it is by spending time and resources removing themselves from the issues that he has created, embracing a vastly different understanding of what rape means and can do to a woman who has fallen victim to the crime.
Ultimately the perfect situation for the Republicans would be that the pressure of all would force him out of the race, especially considering his state party wants him gone. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen though, and he remains ever so defiant, choosing to take himself and anyone around him down, scuttling his own ship, unwilling to realize that, as the old saying goes, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Of course, considering everything that has happened, it’s hard to consider him a terribly valiant politician to begin with. He has created a perilous situation and, rather than taking the full measure of his responsibility for the matter, going as far as cowardly disabling the comments on the apology he posted, only really giving an apology for poorly wording his statement (a “Sorry you misunderstood me” or “Weren’t intelligent to understand what I was saying”), chances are this is going to be a mess a long time in the cleanup stages.
If there ever was a kamikaze candidate it would be Congressman Akin.