The political right is, as Rachel Maddow noted last night, in a state of instability. In the past, fiscally-conservative libertarian-types put aside any qualms about government intrusion into personal lives aside in order to garner votes from social conservatives. Social conservatives adopted the fiscal conservative position. This provided a veneer for the party to look as though it were about “small government” and “personal responsibility” while in fact it was veering increasingly toward government intrusion into personal lives and health care decisions, and toward corporatocracy. The “stability” held through election of the Tea Party wing of the GOP, which at first claimed a libertarian agenda but instead embraced extreme social positions after the 2010 election. But the sheer radicalism on which these positions are based continued to be cloaked in terms like “pro-life” and “family values,” even though the policies espoused are anything but.
That veneer may finally be shattered, thanks to Missouri Rep. Todd Akin and his “legitimate rape” remarks. By exposing the real agenda of today’s anti-choice radicals, Akin has forced the GOP leadership to come clean about its anti-choice, anti-woman views and agenda, and for GOP fiscal conservatives to make a decision about whether they want that radicalism to be their public face.
On the one hand, mainstream GOP leaders are calling on Akin to drop out of the race, but on the other hand the radical position banning reproductive choices espoused by Akin are the basis for a plank in the official party platform. On one hand, the head honchos want to put the dirty secrets back under the carpet until after election day. On the other, social conservatives, are eager and anxious to stop hiding their views and come out of the closet about not only their extreme social positions, but how many of the candidates in the party at least claim to believe in them.
As of this writing, party leaders–presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John Cornyn have all told Akin to drop out of the senate race against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, fearing not only a loss in that race, but the potentially adverse effects of his toxic comments on other state races. They have announced that national party funds will no longer be provided to Akin, a huge blow in what was expected to be one of the most expensive races of the cycle. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Karl Rove super PAC Crossroads GPS have also said they will no longer spend money on Akin’s behalf, a move that pundits say not only signals to outsiders that the race is un-winnable as long as Akin is in, but that they shouldn’t waste their money or resources, either.
The Tea Party may be caving, too. Some Tea Party leaders are also beginning to distance themselves from Akin, calling on him to drop out.
“It is critical that we defeat Senator Claire McCaskill in November, but it will be too difficult to achieve with Todd Akin as the conservative alternative,” said Kremer. “He should step down and give conservatives a chance at taking back the Senate in November.”
“One of the lessons we learned in 2010 is that we need candidates who are not only conservative, but are capable of putting together a strong campaign against liberal opponents,” said Kremer, calling Akin’s comment a ‘Bidenism’ in an apparent reference to Vice President Joe Biden’s recent ‘chains’ gaffe at a campaign stop in Virginia.
The official Tea Party statement is interesting in its wording, being less about Akin’s views, which they called “unfortunate and inappropriate,” and more about his inability to run a viable campaign at this point. It should also be noted that the same group had previously endorsed one of his rivals during the primary.
On the extremes of the far right, however, is an outpouring of support for Akin and his comments. Statements came flying from the Family Research Council, telling Republicans who were urging Akin to leave the race to get a “backbone.”
“We know who Todd Akin is because we’ve worked with him up on the Hill. He’s a defender of life. He’s a defender of families. This is just a controversy built up, it looks as though, to support his opposition. Claire McCaskill on the other hand has supported Planned Parenthood all these years… Todd Akin is getting a very bad break here. We support him fully and completely.”
FRC head Tony Perkins even went as far as to call out Massachusetts Republicans Senator Scott Brown — himself in a close race — and remind him “His support among conservatives is very shallow.”
The Susan B. Anthony List is also supporting Akin, calling him a “partner in the fight for the unborn.” The group had previously supported Akin’s rival, Sarah Steelman, in the primary, who herself had condemned Akin over his remarks.
“Todd Akin’s remarks about ‘legitimate rape’ were inexcusable, insulting and embarrassing to the GOP,” Steelman said via twitter.
But without another option in the race, they are doubling down on Akin, who had been a co-sponsor of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” bill, a legislative priority of SBA List.
“Congressman Akin, a longtime pro-life leader, has said he had misspoken, and no one is arguing that rape is anything but a despicable, horrible crime….If President Obama and Senator McCaskill care to focus on extreme positions, it is time for self reflection. It is time to answer the question why this president has recently rejected bans on gender selection and late term abortions,” Dannenfelser added. “Todd Akin, on the other hand, has a record of voting to protect human life. His opponent does not. Congressman Akin has been an excellent partner in the fight for the unborn.”
That the SBA List continues to support Akin is a key sign that not all of the GOP is on the same page when it comes to the party stance. SBA has devoted itself financially to backing candidates in many of the races in which EMILY’s List has endorsed candidates, especially those in the national spotlight. An unwavering devotion to “life from conception to natural death” has given it cover to oppose candidates just for voting for the Affordable Care Act, or not being willing enough to allow employers to veto birth control coverage on insurance plans. They reluctantly made an exception in order endorse Mitt Romney for president, and were rewarded with the addition of the anti-choice Paul Ryan to the ticket. The group can provide a great deal of both assistance and funding in the race if it chooses not to go along with the mainstream GOP decision to cut Akin off.
The reality in all this is, however, that the party itself, in its platform, its votes, its policies, embraces the very things that Akin said and attested to believing. What happens to Akin, both financially and in his public support, will be less important than whether–with or without him–the party will continue to pander to the most extreme social conservatives, or if a rift is in the making of greater proportions, one that would require Romney and Ryan to reject their own party’s platform.