HOT MIC: Monday Morning Hangover

Updated

“I believe that this election is about a wide-range of very important issues, starting with the economy and the type of country we will be leaving our children and grandchildren.  We’ve had 42 straight months of unacceptably high unemployment, trillion dollar deficits, and Democratic leaders in Washington who are focused on growing government, instead of jobs. That is my primary focus in this campaign and while there are those who want to distract from that, knowing they cannot defend the Democrats’ failed economic record of the last four years, that will continue to be my focus in the months ahead.”

What a thoughtful, cogent message about the Republican vision for the economy. Crisp, and tight, it crystallizes all Republicans really need to send many Democrats home to work on their memoirs. The man who said it is Todd Akin, and unfortunately, it was preceded by two paragraphs walking back some of the most disastrous comments imaginable amid a tight race in a battleground state.  

It is tempting to paint two major headlines from over the weekend with a thick brush. This is a temptation to be avoided, though the stories’ content and timing are no less embarrassing. 

First there’s POLITICO’s blushworthy story about a CODEL of freshman congressmen, one of whom decided to swim in Adam’s state of undress in the Sea of Galilee. This is a rookie mistake for many reasons, the least of which is anyone who has spent any time in the Holy Land knows the far better place for this is the Dead Sea with a tub full of Ahava and a Gold Star.

But of far greater impact is Akin’s jaw-dropping interview with St. Louis station KTVI, where he said:

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

The rebukes were instantaneous and sharp, especially from Akin’s primary opponent Sarah Steelman, who tweeted, “Todd Akin’s remarks about ‘legitimate rape’ were inexcusable, insulting and embarrassing to the GOP”.

It was not long before Akin backtracked, issuing a statement saying:

“As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault.  In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.  Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.

“I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue.  But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.”

Credit must be given to the Romney campaign for distancing themselves, which they did in terms that were both direct and swift. They had to, not just because the comments were odious. Paul Ryan hosts a fundraiser in Missouri Thursday and this radioactive headline likely will not have exhausted its half-life by the time he arrives.

Democratic Incumbent Claire McCaskill was in real trouble. Her seat was meant to help hand the senate back to Republicans. Missouri was supposed to be slipping away not only from her but also President Obama.

“There’s a lot to talk about in this race, but I do think it’s important for Missourians,” McCaskill said on Morning Joe Monday. “I know there’s a lot of chatter nationwide about what Congressman Akin said. And I know you all are talking about in the context of the presidential. But for the state I love I hope this is a moment where everyone who hasn’t been paying close attention, this statement is kind of a window into Todd Akins’ mind.”

If Claire McCaskill was staid in her interview, it was only because she grasps the gravity of the subject. Still, McCaskill reportedly bet $2 million in primary ads backing Akin (a fact she disputes), a bet that is now paying enormous dividends. And McCaskill roundly rejected the idea the GOP should replace Akin, calling it “radical” to go against voters in the state. 

This is not the first time this election season the focus of the Republican message has blinked away from the economy to moral issues like abortion. But Democrats are the only party that seems to wholeheartedly welcome a morality fight, making same sex marriage a part of the national platform.

GOP brass know they don’t need it. Their message can be as simple as it is effective: President Obama has been an awful President—if you don’t believe us, just look at the economy.

But there’s an emerging hazard as well for Democrats. Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, is already pouncing on the comments, tweeting “I’m disgusted by Rep Akin’s remarks about rape. The GOP agenda for women isn’t just wrong. It’s dangerous.” And while the comments won’t affect Warren’s base, if the Akin incident isn’t a lesson in the value of self editing, it’s hard to tell what is.

The Romney-Ryan ticket needs this to be a blip on the radar. They need Missouri to go easily into the W column. They need Todd Akin to stay as far away from their bunting and banjo as possible. But mostly, they need to make it clear to down-ticket campaigns that if they upend the ballot with prattle, alienating women or anyone else, the whole thing could go with it.

Claire McCaskill and Todd Akin

HOT MIC: Monday Morning Hangover

Updated