The National Journal revealed on Thursday that Democrats believe their best shot at mitigating the damage voters are set to do to their Senate majority is to “create” a new Todd Akin.
“With or without a gaffe, Democrats and advocacy groups are convinced that the contraception fight will help turn out a major voting bloc for Democrats: unmarried single women,” National Journal’s Sophie Novack reported.
This group currently makes up 25.6 percent of the voting-eligible population, according to a report from Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and the Voter Participation Center. A recent poll from Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund found that when unmarried women are exposed to “in your shoes” messaging, their Democratic margin increases by 14 points and their turnout increases by 10 points.
The report noted that Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) came close to providing Democrats with the ammunition they need to resurrect the War on Women when she told attendees of a recent conference on the GOP’s messaging to women that “Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level.”
Ellmers’ gender may yet allow her to escape the Akin treatment, but Democrats are on the lookout for any Republican misstatement involving abortion or contraception.
In their quest to manufacture a new Akin, Democrats are receiving no help from the real Akin. The former Missouri Senate candidate is on a media blitz this week promoting his new book, giving interviews to cable news hosts like Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. It is clear that Akin has not internalized the lessons of his “legitimate rape” comments, which cost his party a winnable Senate seat in 2012.
Republican strategists have gone to great lengths to avoid repeating Akin’s mistakes. In January, prospective GOP candidates were sequestered at a two-day summit in which they were “counseled specifically on navigating trouble-prone issues related to women.” Former GOP congressional leadership spokesman Ron Bonjean provided a window into the thinking of Beltway Republicans when he told the National Journal that Akin’s approach to reproductive issues was both “stupid and bad.”
“It would be political malpractice for Republicans to engage with that kind of conversation,” he said. Akin proved Bonjean’s point on Thursday when he was asked by Todd to explain his infamous comments.
“Legitimate rape is a law enforcement term. And it’s abbreviation for legitimate case of rape,” Akin said in his own defense on Thursday. “If I had been choosing my words better, I should have said ‘legitimate case of rape.’ And I have acknowledged that it is a poor choice of words.”
Having taken the bait, Todd did his job and pressed Akin to discuss his thoughts on rape at length. Akin obliged.
In this interview, one focused entirely on sexual assault, Akin gave an extended defense of his action by insisting that former President Bill Clinton allegedly engaged in consequence-free acts of sexual violence.
“Should the child conceived in rape have the same right to life as a child conceived in love?” Akin asked repeatedly. “I had a number of people on my campaign that were children that had grown up that had been conceived in rape.”
“Which, by the way, also undermines your argument that someone the woman’s body shuts down,” Todd observed, citing medical professionals who said there was no truth to Akin’s clinical opinion. The former GOP candidate again bit and went on to defend the scientific basis for the comments which led to Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) unlikely reelection.
Todd successfully maneuvered Akin into speaking almost entirely on the morality and legality of abortion in the case of rape, which is exactly what GOP strategists have warned Republican candidates to avoid.
Akin’s performance was no stronger on Fox. There, the former Senate candidate repeatedly defended his original inflammatory comments, a move which indicates that Akin’s claim that his “choice of words” were “poor” is a disingenuous assertion.
“The legitimate rape comment was an abbreviation,” Akin told Kelly on Tuesday night. “It is the idea of a legitimate claim of rape.”
Akin is no longer a political actor. He is promoting a book and attempting to rehabilitate his image. Do his comments suffice to reignite the War on Women? Probably not, but that does not mean they will have no effect on the 2014 cycle.
As National Review’s Jim Geraghty noted:
— jimgeraghty (@jimgeraghty) July 17, 2014
And fundraising translates into airtime, volunteer outreach, GOTV efforts, and so on. Just as the decision in Hobby Lobby became the center of the Democratic fundraising pitch for a cycle, Akin is as likely to be used to generate Democratic enthusiasm.
But Akin’s reemergence is just as likely to benefit Republicans. His stubborn refusal to refrain from defending the comments which destroyed his political career provide the GOP a model of conduct they are well-advised to avoid emulating.
Experience is the best teacher, and Akin’s experience is one no Republican candidate wants to suffer.