Commentary: GOP has added fuel to Todd Akin fire

The Kansas City StarOctober 3, 2012 

This week demonstrated for all the world to see just how badly the Republican Party botched the Todd Akin controversy.

That’s “botched” as in “messed up,” “mishandled” and outright “bungled.”

Six weeks after Akin uttered his now infamous comments about “legitimate rape” and nearly that long after Republicans here, there and everywhere started peeling off his campaign, some are now, astonishingly, supporting him again.

Flip-flop, flip-flop.

Six weeks ago, Akin was so damaged by his remarks that Republican after Republican — and I’m talking Sen. Roy Blunt all the way to the GOP nominee for president himself, Mitt Romney — not only condemned Akin but demanded that he withdraw from the race. That was just days after he won a tough primary.

They in effect considered Akin political roadkill.

Republicans could have condemned the remarks, distanced themselves at least temporarily and moved on. But they didn’t.

Instead, they panicked. They panicked because on the eve of the Republican National Convention in Tampa they saw the GOP’s traditional problem with women exploding in their faces all over again. Democrats traditionally do better with women, and the “legitimate rape” remarks threatened to extend that advantage in a very close presidential race.

They panicked because they feared that Akin’s proclivity for sticking his foot in his mouth would come back to haunt them if they didn’t move him out. Akin did it again Thursday when he said his Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill, had been more “ladylike” in her 2006 Senate race because she wasn’t so aggressive.

Republicans panicked for another reason, and that was they suddenly foresaw Akin losing to McCaskill and Democrats keeping control of the Senate.

They panicked and they bailed and, in the process, they took an extremely poor choice of words and blew it into a lingering news story of national proportions. They may have irrevocably undermined Akin’s election prospects, too.

Ultimately, Republicans misunderstood Akin himself. By abandoning him in droves, they hoped to drive him from the race. But Akin, a man of deep faith accustomed to going against the grain as a far-right conservative, stood fast just as, well, Jesus did once upon a time.

Where a quieter, behind-the-scenes effort might have paid dividends, Republicans opted to play hardball on the front page.

And now with the GOP dividing into pro-Akin and anti-Akin camps, and with the statewide ticket on the line and with President Obama creeping up on Romney in Missouri, party leaders felt they had no choice but to reunite with Akin and hold the party together, even after so much damage had been done.

Akin has withstood the furor far better than they anticipated. Despite his own words — and his own party — he’s still got a fighting chance.

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