The Republican Party has ridden ideological, anti-government fervor to a number of victories, particularly in the 2010 midterm election. But the political dangers created by the free-wheeling, anti-authoritarian movement have come into full view in the person of rogue U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin.
Most traditional GOP nominees who made a giant blunder — as Akin did Sunday with his foolish comments about how “legitimate rape” seldom makes women pregnant — would find it hard to resist the barrage of calls from Republican Party major-domos to give up their candidacies.
But as of Monday evening, Akin appeared determined to remain in the race against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). His intransigence came despite clear signals — from the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, its Senate leader, its party chairman, one of its most powerful independent fundraising engines and even a leading tea party umbrella group — that he needed to get out as soon as possible.
“I am in this race to win,” Akin said via Twitter on Monday afternoon. “We need a conservative Senate. Help me defeat Claire by donating.” The micro-blog message included a link to an Akin fundraising site. Just before 8 p.m. Eastern time, Akin reiterated that stance in an email blast to the media.
“I have just begun to fight,” it read, “and I’m in this race to the end!”
By day’s end, the congressman had not just the Republican establishment, Democrats and women’s rights organizations after his hide. He’d also managed to tee up a moment of media agitprop for struggling CNN talk show host Piers Morgan. When Akin failed to show up for an interview he had purportedly agreed to, Morgan’s producers showed video of the congressman’s empty chair.
“Congressman, you have an open invitation to join me in that chair whenever you feel up to it,” Morgan jabbed, “because if you don’t keep your promise to be on the show, then you are what we would call in Britain a gutless little twerp.”
The six-term congressman has shown a willingness in the past not to be pushed by popular convention. He has talked frequently about the individual standing up against the establishment, including an intrusive federal government.
He rejected President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation as too invasive for parents. With his wife, Lulli, Akin pulled his children out of school to have them taught at home. That made the Akins heroes to other home-schooling parents, many of them Christian evangelicals. Lulli Akin directed other parents at a home-school conference to “make sure that you tuck God’s word deep into your heart and your children’s hearts.”
The congressman said recently that he thought both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act should be reexamined to determine whether the foundational pieces of legislation were still worthwhile.
“America has got the equivalent of the stage III cancer of socialism,” Akin said, “because the federal government is tampering in all kinds of stuff it has no business tampering in.”
Feeling that mainstream Missourians wouldn’t accept the congressman’s more extreme views, Democrats spent more than $1.5 million to help him win a three-way Republican primary. Akin won. Now his rape and pregnancy comments — and a belief that women can somehow magically ward off pregnancy in such cases — are just the sort of payoff that McCaskill and the Democrats had hoped for.
Republicans have lined up fairly uniformly to try to get Akin out of the race, with their eye on a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline. It would take a court order, after that time, to get the six-term congressman’s name off the Nov. 6 ballot.
The congressman created the mess in an interview Sunday with a St. Louis television station. He explained that pregnancies were “really rare” in rapes, citing unnamed doctors as the source of his information. “If it’s a legitimate rape,” Akin said, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Akin has since apologized and conceded his remarks were “wrong” and “ill-conceived.”
Republicans realize no apology can explain away how such backward ideas got in the congressman’s head in the first place. The only safe ground politically is to jump as far away from the dunderheaded Akin and his home-school physiology lesson as they can.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney quickly called the statements “insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong.” Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus made it clear he wanted Akin out of the Senate race and as far from next week’s GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., as possible. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky advised the Missourian to consult with his family about “whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in this critical election.” Both the Republican’s Senate reelection apparatus and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads “super PAC” signaled they would pull financial support for Akin.
Even the Tea Party Express, based in California, said it was time for Akin to go. The tea party group’s statement said it would be difficult for the GOP to take control of the Senate if Akin didn’t allow himself to be replaced. The Tea Party Express leveled an ultimate insult — comparing Akin to Vice President Joe Biden.
“One of the lessons we learned in 2010 is that we need candidates who are not only conservative, but are capable of putting together a strong campaign against liberal opponents,” the group said in a statement. “Akin’s frequent ‘Bidenisms’ are distracting from the important issues at hand.”
But Akin has been much admired among some of his strongest supporters for being a nonconformist who draws his own conclusions about what is right and what is wrong. Some of those messages, he believes, come from a higher power.
A quote in Akin’s latest fundraising appeal come from Benjamin Franklin. “God governs in the affairs of men,” it reads. “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable an empire can rise without his aid?”