I have been riveted by the slow-motion Todd Akin train wreck over the past three days, from the original stupid remark, to the apology that demonstrated clearly that he had no clue how bizarre and out-of-touch his theories of rape and pregnancy are or why they were a problem, to the denouement, Tuesday evening, in which he confirmed that he was still running for Senate.
It is fascinating to watch someone on a national stage who truly fails to comprehend the reality of what he is doing. Mr. Akin seemed genuinely oblivious to what it means when all of his peers — GOP leaders, all the former U.S. senators from Missouri, the head of the RNC, leading conservative pundits who never back away from a fight, and even his party’s presidential candidate — ask him to step aside for the sake of his cause, his beliefs, his goals, and his party’s chances in November. The only person publicly calling for Mr. Akin to remain in his race is his Democratic opponent, Missouri senator Claire McCaskill. (To be sure, this inability to keep her mouth shut and let the situation play out without her input demonstrates that the senator, who is vulnerable enough because she does not vote her state’s wishes, is also stupid.)
Mr. Akin, clinging to polls that reflect pre-gaffe reality, defended his decision to tough it out on Sean Hannity’s radio show on Monday and Tuesday. His language was lucid enough, and his arguments met the minimal criteria for coherence: They hung together. But they reflect immense, obstinate unwillingness to comprehend the situation in which he finds himself.
What can Mr. Akin possibly believe will happen as he continues his Senate run after defying every single person whose help and support he needs? What’s he going to do for money? If he wins, what kind of committee assignments will he get from a Republican Senate leader who told him to withdraw? What does a senator do when the president ignores and isolates him?
For their part, what do Romney, Priebus, McConnell & Co. do to punish someone who defied them, and whose presence will cost them real ground in the battle over the “war on women”? This is a truly pernicious diversion from the issues that matter this year. They have to do something. Doing nothing shows weakness and absolute lack of party discipline. No quarter can be given to Akin’s self-serving clain that he is acting on principle. For one thing, his statement that he acts on principle, while “others” only consider “politics,” evinces his failure to understand the political landscape in which he is running, the political consequences of stupid, offensive speech in public at the wrong time, and the reality that politics ain’t beanbag. Bigger things — the course of our nation — are at stake. His vision of himself making a stand for all the unborn babies who might perish without him really needs to be subjected to the reality that he has harmed his cause by making it look nutty.
The most interesting question that arises is where the story can go from here: It’s unclear whether or not Akins can still withdraw from the race to allow another Republican to take his place. And it is quite late for some arm of the GOP to insert a new candidate under a third-party banner, such as one of the two people who ran against Akins in the primary. After this fiasco, state treasurer Sarah Steelman, a woman, is the best choice to challenge McCaskill. Akin’s withdrawal in favor of a new candidate is still the best choice, and as soon as possible.
So it’s hard to know what happens. But the central dramatic moment of a slow-motion train wreck is the wreck. And we’re not quite there yet. Stay tuned.
— Lisa Schiffren is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.