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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What Should Akin Do?

"Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." -Mark Twain

Todd Akin said a really dumb thing, which happened to fit the truest definition of a gaffe since it let people know what he really thought. Now he's the best fundraising tool in the Democratic arsenal, and his own party is calling on him to withdraw and threatening to withdraw key funding for his race against Claire McCaskill, a race that had looked extremely winnable for the GOP until Akin's gaffe.

So far Akin has remained defiant, pledging to stay in the race and even trying to use his new-found outsider status to rile up his supporters to make up the funding gap he'll now likely face. Recent quotes from him have tended along the lines of (to paraphrase) "the liberal elites are trying to force me out". (Imagine how shocked Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, and Paul Ryan were to find out they now belong to the liberal elite.)

However, the question of whether or not Akin should get out of the race is more interesting than either party would have you believe. Predictably, political advantage is driving principle in a lot of quarters. McCaskill and many Democrats want him to stay in the race because he represents the best chance they have of winning on Election Day, while the national GOP wants Akin out because with him as the most prominent Republican Senate candidate the news-cycle isn't likely to be favorable for some time.

To me, it seems a little distasteful to have national party leaders trying to control who can and can't appear on the ballot. Whatever his flawed understanding of anatomy, the position Akin has arrived at on abortion and the rape exception isn't really out of step with his party. (Banning abortion, even in instances of rape and incest, is officially part of the platform to be presented at the GOP convention in Tampa.) The Missouri voters who cast their ballots for Akin knew what his position was on this issue, even if they didn't know how he justified it. Whether Mitt Romney or anyone else like it, he won a plurality of GOP voters in Missouri, and used a lot of his own money to do so. If he wants to continue his campaign I say he should be able to.

If the Republican party no longer supports Akin, that is fine. They can and should continue to disparage his statements, and clarify the distinctions between his positions and theirs. If they want to encourage GOP voters to write in someone else for Senate, that would be fine too.

The problem of course is that, other than on an IQ test, many establishment Republicans, including VP nominee Paul Ryan, can't separate themselves in a practical manner from many of Akin's beliefs. Akin and Ryan co-sponsored a bill that limited federal funding for abortion to victims of "forcible rape" and one senses that even that was a compromise. Which is why it rings a little hollow when the GOP acts like Todd Akin is a hideous monster just because he arrives at the same position as they do with worse justification.

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