On Todd Akin, and the tale of the magic uterus

Updated

Todd Akin has until Tuesday at 5:00pm ET to drop the Republican Senate nomination he just skunked, and slowly back away. Right now, it seems the Republican Congressman from Missouri will stay in, as he told Mike Huckabee in a radio interview today, “I’m not a quitter…By the grace of God, we’re going to win this race.”

This sudden fortitude comes despite a contrary report from conservative blog RedState that his staff was making preparations for Akin’s departure from the race. Akin just tweeted out an appeal for campaign funds, so take that for what you will.

Still, I’d get it if Akin’s party suddenly transforms him into a “quitter” because, by the grace of God, he has uttered the stupidest thing a politician is likely to say all year. I don’t say that simply because I disagree with Akin’s views on abortion and rape. No, what he said was quite literally stupid, by the dictionary definition.

Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo was the first to flag Akin’s interview with KTVI-TV, the St. Louis Fox affiliate:

[Akin] justified his opposition to abortion rights even in case of rape with a claim that victims of “legitimate rape” have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin has made the customary attempt at an apology, claiming that he just “misspoke” and that his understanding of female anatomy might be a bit off. But his quitting might be the only way he saves what the Republicans considered a winnable race against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. The growing cacophony from the Right demanding his departure from the race continues, ranging from early-bird Senator Scott Brown, eager to keep fooling Massachusetts voters who don’t think he’s a conservative, to Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, to the more subtle Senator John Cornyn, who today recommended that Akin “should carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party.” Karl Rove spoke more so with his actions, announcing plans to pull his Crossroads ads backing Akin out of Missouri. Even the Tea Party Express is calling for Akin to bounce. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney also chimed in (twice) with his condemnation.

Interesting that Republicans did not react in such panic mode after Akin, days after capturing the Missouri Senate nomination, called for the morning-after pill to be banned. Akin claimed emergency contraceptives are a form of abortion (it isn’t), and he doesn’t approve, since he believes all abortion should be banned.

He’s not alone in this opinion; new Romney running mate Paul Ryan, the guy who once said he’s “as pro-life as a person gets,” also doesn’t believe in any exceptions for abortion. Granted, Ryan hasn’t been stupid enough to use the phrase “legitimate rape” in public, but make no mistake: the only difference here is one of vocabulary. A reminder, from Romney’s hometown Boston Globe:

Last year, Ryan joined Akin as one of 227 co-sponsors of a bill that narrowed an exemption to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions. The Hyde Amendment allows federal dollars to be used for abortions in cases of rape and incest, but the proposed bill – authored by New Jersey Representative Christopher H. Smith – would have limited the incest exemption to minors and covered only victims of “forcible rape.”

House Republicans never defined what constituted “forcible rape” and what did not, but critics of the bill suggested the term could exclude women who are drugged and raped, mentally handicapped women who are coerced, and victims of statutory rape.

The “forcible” qualifier was eventually removed before the bill passed in the House last May. The Democrat-controlled Senate did not vote on the measure.

The “forcible” or “legitimate” rape arguments are one and the same. There’s no effort to join Ryan and Akin in this regard; they arrived that way. Romney’s campaign can claim that their guy believes in the rape/incest/health-of-the-mother exceptions, but their guy just, in essence, hired a guy who has been open about his disagreement on those issues. He should have to answer for that, not simply in a political-news-cycle way, but as far as the kind of influence Ryan would have on women’s health policy in a Romney White House. (For examples of stuff that could go bye-bye if they win, see this Justice Department list.)

Yes, some anti-abortion groups actually think this kind of talk helps their cause, largely because they actually believe the stuff Akin was shoveling in that interview about magic uteri. But it’s clear that the Republican establishment sees Akin as this election cycle’s Ken Buck, Christine O’Donnell, or Sharron Angle: a self-wounded duck in a race the party might otherwise win. But he’s not the only problem – his connection to other Republicans – including the golden boy of the party, the soon-to-be vice-presidential nominee – is their real emergency. And so they’re hoping to excise him. Makes sense, if you’re thinking politically.

President Obama and his campaign get this. They’d already come out with a new ad on Friday attacking Romney and Ryan on women’s rights, and today, their Truth Team tweeted a Politico article emphasizing Romney and Ryan’s disagreement on abortion. To boot, the President (after intolerable whining from the White House press corps) picked today to take the mike at the daily press briefing to say that:

“Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people. And [it] certainly doesn’t make sense to me.”

Republicans are just in full-on CYOA mode because they know the President has an opening on a political ground where he is stronger. And as Pema Levy of TPM noted, this isn’t the first time one of their candidates has nuked their chances with this kind of statement. There may be a Republican or two who is objecting to Akin’s remarks on moral grounds, but it isn’t as if the party all of a sudden grew standards when it comes to anti-abortion rhetoric. Frankly, it’s been long ago made clear that Republicans couldn’t give a hot damn about the reproductive freedoms of women, whether or not they were to somehow possess the superpower to selectively reject only the sperm of rapists.

One more thing: Akin may owe his recent primary victory in part to the fact that Missouri Republicans are intent upon helping the state’s children think like Akin. Laura Helmuth of Slate on the passage of the state’s new “Right to Pray” amendment:

Missouri’s “Right to Pray” amendment, which passed this month, allows kids to opt out of any educational assignments that conflict with their beliefs. As the National Center for Science Education has pointed out, that means children have a legal right to refuse to participate in biology class. Or, presumably, sex ed, where they would have to learn about basic reproductive biology, a class Todd Akin apparently skipped.

He wasn’t alone, it seems.

Reproductive Rights and Mitt Romney

On Todd Akin, and the tale of the magic uterus

Updated