In recent memory, some prominent Republican Senate candidates destroyed their own campaigns with indefensible comments about sexual assaults. Missouri's Todd Akin, for example, derailed his chances in 2012 with his infamous thoughts on the impossibility of pregnancies after "legitimate" rapes. The same year, Indiana's Richard Mourdock hurt himself badly by announcing his belief that pregnancies resulting from rape are "something that God intended."
Six years later, Republicans are struggling to appear interested in Christine Blasey Ford's assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. A New York Times editorial noted over the weekend, "The needle that Republicans have been trying to thread is exceedingly fine -- and they have been doing a rotten job of it."
Rep. Kevin Cramer (R), the GOP's U.S. Senate candidate in North Dakota, seemed eager on Friday to prove the point. TPM reported:
Cramer sounded off on professor Christine Blasey Ford's claim that Brett Kavanaugh drunkenly sexually assaulted her when she was 15 and he was 17 during a radio interview, describing them as "even more absurd" than Anita Hill's accusations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her because of Kavanaugh's age at the time and because it was "an attempt or something that never went anywhere.""This case is even more absurd because these people were teenagers when this supposed, alleged incident took place. Teenagers. Not a boss, supervisor-subordinate situation as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill situation was claimed to be," he said during an appearance on KNOX. "These are teenagers who evidently were drunk according to her own, her own statements. They were drunk when it evidently happened ... even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere. So you just have to wonder."
The congressman isn't the first Republican to try to defend the alleged crime Kavanaugh says he didn't commit, but Cramer is rather unique in making the case that the alleged attack is "absurd" in part because it "never went anywhere."
The North Dakotan seemed to flub some of the relevant details -- the professor, for example, does not claim she was drunk at the time of the alleged incident -- but even putting that aside, the idea that the Senate should be unconcerned about an incident that, by some measures, may have been an attempted rape if it didn't "go anywhere" is extraordinary.
A day later, Cramer issued a clarification, telling TPM, "The question I was answering was how the current accusation against Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford compared to the Anita Hill accusation against Clarence Thomas. The point of my answer was that the current allegations were even more absurd. At the time, there was a sense of legitimacy to what Anita Hill was saying, but it is hard not to be skeptical considering the timing and history of the allegation Brett Kavanaugh is facing. Of course, any allegation of this nature should be taken seriously, but absent significant evidence being brought forth immediately, I feel Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation process should proceed."
The follow-up statement suggests Cramer's campaign recognized the problem with his original on-air comments. But as Akin and Mourdock can attest, trying to walk back controversial rhetoric about sexual assaults is easier said than done.
In April 2017, CNN quoted a Senate GOP campaign veteran who said at the time, "On paper, it looks like he could win, but he also appears to have a few Akin-like tendencies that make a lot of people nervous."
A year and a half later, perhaps those concerns were well grounded?