We have a great opportunity right now to show that an emphasis on free-market economics and self-reliance can benefit women. And then along comes Todd Akin…

Akin is the the GOP’s nominee to challenge wobbly Claire McCaskill for a seat in the Senate, and unfortunately Akin just said something so stupid that he is beginning to make flaky GOP candidate Christine O’Donnell look like Bismarck and Karl Rove rolled into one. But politics isn't only one reason Akin's remark was offensive.

What sort of politician—or human being, for that matter—says, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Is he trying to say that, if she gets pregnant, she enjoyed it? Certainly sounds like it. Akin was arguing against abortion but, aside from his breathtaking ignorance of biology, he said something both cruel and stupid.

Michelle Malkin lambasts him:

There’s no sugar-coating or whitewashing this. It wasn’t a “gaffe.” It was ignorant, garbled nonsense.  

As Alana Goodman points out on Commentary, Akin has just made himself the face of the so-called “war on women.” This is really bad. Mitt Romney, who immediately repudiated Akin’s moronic remark, and Paul Ryan are ideally suited to making the argument that the GOP offers women a better deal. But Akin handed their opponents a gift-wrapped talking point.

The fallout could be significant:

Republicans have a major problem on their hands, and not just because this could destroy the possibility of a Republican majority in the Senate, as John and Jonathan explained earlier. If Akin steps down from the race but keeps his congressional seat, Democrats will continue to use him as an example of the House GOP’s alleged extremism on abortion. They’ll make him the face of the “war on women” they claim is taking place in congress — which they’re trying to tie to Paul Ryan.

Meanwhile, Philip Klein of the Examiner raises a pertinent question about Akin:

Politically, a lot of the analysis as to whether Akin should drop out of the race has focused on whether he could still recover from this horrendous statement and win. A more important question is what kind of senator Republicans would be getting if he could hang on and they could gain a majority in the Senate. Anybody capable of making a statement as simultaneously offensive and moronic as Akin’s is likely to make more such statements. That means, even if Akin wins, he’s likely to embarrass his party for six years and undermine the pro-life cause.

Missouri Republicans have other choices. Both Sarah Steelman and John Brunner led troubled Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in polls taken during the GOP primary, and both were closer to the Tea Party than Akin (Steelman was endorsed by Sarah Palin). If Akin drops out of the race by tomorrow, the Missouri GOP could still pick another candidate. Akin has caused enough damage already. He should do the right thing and step aside and make room for somebody else while there’s still time.

If Akin gets around to apologizing, let’s hope he won’t trot out the “if I have offended anyone” line. He has offended us all and possibly harmed his party, which so often in the last few years has been successful in making its argument to women.