Picture by AP Photo/Bill Boyce
Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) has warmed Democrats’ hearts for two reasons. First, the Republican Senatorial nominee singlehandedly made Missouri a swing state, instantly reducing his party’s chances of defeating Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) seat and regaining control of the Senate. Second, he did what no elected Republican seems to have the courage to do anymore. Akin stood up to his entire party.
Of course, Akin was in an indefensible position. Suggesting victims of “legitimate rape” do not get pregnant isn’t just inaccurate, it’s appalling. But he didn’t let that stop him.
Republicans immediately sensed the seriousness of the Akin crisis. In a year when Republican policies on birth control and Planned Parenthood threaten a historically wide gender gap at the polls, Akin’s comments confirmed many of the worst clichés about the Grand Old Party. Republican men not only fail to understand how women think, they simply do not grasp how the female body works. Or they just don’t care.
An equally troubling problem for the GOP is that Akin and Paul Ryan (R-WI), their soon-to-be vice-presidential nominee, share an identical voting record on abortion rights. In fact they’ve worked closely to restrict reproductive freedom. Republicans needed to kill that story, and fast.
When Akin’s attempts to clarify his comments Sunday afternoon revealed that he didn’t grasp why people were so upset, supporters of the Republicans whom Akin had defeated in the primary began reminding their party that the congressman had until Tuesday at 5 PM Central to drop out.
The clock had started.
Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), facing a tight race against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, was one of the first Republicans to call on Akin to withdraw. That evening the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, responded to Akin’s outrageous comments as any true leader would — with a angry statement.
“Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” the statement read. Of course, the statement also included another flip flop. Paul Ryan, up until that moment, had never supported any exceptions in his anti-abortion rights stand.
Notably, the Romney campaign statement did not call on Akin to withdraw.
The next two days unfolded like slapstick comedy — Akin ran face-first into every obstacle and did not seem to notice. He appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio show and was berated as if he were Alan Colmes for not dropping. Akin agreed to appear on CNN with Piers Morgan, then didn’t show up, provoking Morgan to berate Akin’s empty chair on air.
When a poll on Monday evening showed Akin still leading McCaskill by a point, he seemed even more resolved to stay in.
On Tuesday, Akin received a call from Romney’s running mate and his old pal, Paul Ryan. The party’s new ideological leader advised Akin to withdraw. Later the same day, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus publicly called on Akin to withdraw. Next came calls from Sen. Roy Blunt and former senators John Danforth, Kit Bond, John Ashcroft and Jim Talent, all urging Akin to take a fall.
Akin would not budge.
Now the scene was set for classical drama, a version of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man set in the new millennium. The future of an entire political party rests in the hands on one perfectly flawed character. What event could trigger this tragic figure to wake up to reason and sacrifice himself for his party? How about a clarion call from the real leader of the Republican Party, the man who had defeated all the non-Romneys to become his party’s nominee?
What a perfectly choreographed opportunity! Mitt Romney finally geot his Sista Souljah moment, his chance to set his party straight. It was too perfect, but Romney waited too long. Late on Tuesday afternoon, he finally issued another statement, calling on Akin to drop out — but only after obtaining the official seal of approval from his entire party.
“As I said yesterday, Todd Akin’s comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,” said Romney in a statement released by his campaign. “Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.” It wasn’t Romney demanding that Akin drop out; it was Akin’s fellow Missourians, with Romney merely chiming in to agree.
Akin promptly went on Sean Hannity’s show and retorted: “Why couldn’t he run his race and I’ll run mine?”
Play the sad trombone. Romney failed. Akin is still in the race.
As Steve Kornacki said, Romney was trying to lead from behind, just as Romney had accused the President over and over again. What Romney really did was to publicly fail in his first attempt to herd the cats of the Republican Party.
Is this what Mitt learned in business? Wait until the last moment. Fail in front of everyone. Empower the extremists.
Not only had Mitt failed in this test of leadership, just as he failed when his party’s real leader, Rush Limbaugh, was verbally abusing former law student Sandra Fluke. Now he looked weak in contrast to Akin, a man with the gumption to stand up to the entire GOP. The gumption to say what many Republicans think.
Yesterday, Limbaugh said that if he’d called for Akin to step down, Akin would have stepped down. No doubt. Because Republicans know Rush will still be around in December. And when Rush says something, the activist base rises up to back him up.
Mitt knows he doesn’t have that power. Nor does he possess the courage to stand up to Limbaugh, Grover Norquist, or Paul Ryan when his future is on the line, which it always will be with the constant threat of a Sarah Palin or some other Tea Partier threatening a primary challenge should a President Romney prove to not be “conservative” enough.
Again and again, Mitt Romney reminds us of one thing. You can only trust him to stand up for what’s best for Mitt Romney. And he isn’t even very good at doing at.