By Paolo von Schirach
August 22, 2012
WASHINGTON – Make no mistake, in a close election like this one, the scandal caused by Todd Akin’s rape and abortion debacle can make a real difference. Akin, a Missouri Representative, is now candidate for the Senate. The fall out from his unbelievable remarks about “legitimate rape” and how women can shut things off in their bodies so that they will not get pregnant if raped has already become so big that it may end costing Romney the election by alienating more women and many others who will not support a Republican Party in which crazy bigots like Akin can be candidates for state wide office.
Can this disaster decide the elections?
This is no exaggeration. The presidential race is close, and it is well known that Obama already enjoys a comfortable margin among women voters, in part because of the Democratic party historic support of abortion as a right. For Romney to have a real chance, he would need to convince at least some of those women to switch sides. However, this would require a dramatic change of perception, and the GOP dogged persistence on re-fighting the abortion battle at every election does not help at all.
But now, with the incredibly stupid comments by senatorial candidate Todd Akin, what was a serious image problem until yesterday just morphed into a disaster, since Akin declared that he will not drop out of the race, (at least as of today August 22). (In his own defense, Akin admitted that he misspoke. He really meant to say “forcible rape”. But it does not matter. The damage is done. By the way, try and explain how you can distinguish between “forcible” and “non forcible” rape).
The Republican Party tried to distance itself
Sure enough, the Republican party has tried to take its distance, condemning Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” and openly asking him to get out of this senatorial election. Furthermore, both Romney and Ryan said that Akin should quit.
All well and good, but this is just minimum PR, going through the motions. This is not nearly enough to recreate an image of a modern party in which proponents of abortion may coexist with those who oppose it on moral or religious grounds.
Media portray Akin as a mainstream Republican
Looking at the media coverage, the prevailing narrative now is that Akin stupidly aired in the open what most Republicans secretly or not so secretly truly believe. They believe that women should have no right to abortions under any circumstances, including the cases in which unwanted pregnancies are the result of rape. And this is a huge problem for the party.
Whatever your personal beliefs on the matter of sanctity of life may be, the Republican party on this issue is totally out of step with most Americans, and especially with the overwhelming majority of women voters.
Romney-Ryan hit by the fall out
Even though Romney and Ryan may want to finesse the politically damaging abortion issue by saying that, while they have personal views on abortions, as elected leaders they would uphold the law as is, the damage is done.
The chorus of the media and interest groups is unanimous: “As the Akin “candid comments” demonstrate, the GOP as a whole is the prisoner of anti-women bigotry and therefore it is out of the American mainstream. Needless to say, this party has no hope to gain women votes”.
GOP should take stronger action against Akin, but it will not
Perhaps the political damage could be contained by forcing Todd Akin out of the Missouri Senate race as soon as possible. But this would be barely the beginning. Akin should be barred from the Republican Party on the ground that personal moral principles should not be confused with bigotry. The GOP will not accept open bigots within its ranks. This should be the message.
But you cannot count on any of this happening. A big chunk of the Republican base loves the anti-abortion stance, even though they would not talk about “legitimate rape”. And I have no doubt that many GOP hardliners secretly share beliefs in the bogus “science” about women bodies shutting off when they are raped so that they cannot possibly become pregnant and other such nonsense as a way to justify their anti-abortion convictions.
Akin is a gift to the Democratic Party
In a close election in which Romney’s only hope to win rests on his ability to keep the voters’ focus firmly on the sputtering economy this Todd Akin disaster is an unexpected (major) gift to Obama and the Democrats. It allows them to fire up the base, while giving them a chance to recast this elections into a contest about choosing the party that supports civil rights.
The Akin scandal alone may not be big enough to cause a pro-Obama tidal wave, but it may be sufficient to give Obama the edge in key states in November. And that’s all it takes to win: a tiny margin in Ohio, Virgina or Florida. Talk about self-inflicted (mortal?) wounds.