National and state GOP leaders criticize Akin, some call on him to step down
After sparking a nationwide firestorm for suggesting that women rarely get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” U.S. Rep. Todd Akin now finds himself sharply criticized by several national and state Republicans, with some calling on him to drop out of the race for U.S. Senate.
While it seems questionable that the Wildwood Republican would withdraw from his bid against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Republicans across the state and the nation say Akin may have hurt his chances to unseat McCaskill.
Some Republicans who opposed Akin’s Senate bid aren’t holding back from lambasting the six-term lawmaker — and suggesting that he step aside to prevent losing a race that had seemed winnable just days ago.
For instance, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman — who came in third in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate — tweeted Monday morning that Akin’s remarks "about 'legitimate rape' were inexcusable, insulting and embarrassing to the GOP." Republican senatorial candidates — including U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts, U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Denny Rehberg, R-Mont. — also condemned Akin’s comments.
Miles Ross, a southwest Missouri consultant who worked for Frontenac businessman John Brunner, tweeted: “know how you get out of a mess like this? You don't.”
“Listen,” Ross wrote. “That's the sound of wallets shutting across [Missouri].”
Buddy Hardin, a St. Charles Republican activist who supported Steelman, went a step further, tweeting that “damage is irreparable.”
“GOP control of Senate more important to USA than any one man,” Hardin wrote. “Akin needs to put USA first and step aside.”
That line of thinking was abundant among national pundits. Ari Fleischer, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush, and GOP consultant Patrick Ruffani tossed around the name of former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat who backed off his bid for re-election midstream in 2002.
Mike Murphy, a former aide to U.S. Sen. John McCain, echoed Hardin when he tweeted “Akin should put good of GOP first and resign the nomination now after his idiotic comment.” Brown also told CNN that Akin should step aside.
(Start of update) After Akin appeared on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's radio show, even more prominent Republicans either explicitly or implicitly said the congressman needed to step aside.
For instance, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who leads the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement that Akin "should carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party, and the values that he cares about and has fought for throughout his career in public service."
The Associated Press reported that money set aside for Akin would be spent elsewhere. And Politico reported that Crossroads GPS, a Super PAC run by Karl Rove that's spent millions to dislodge McCaskill, would bow out of the Missouri Senate race.
Condemnation from Missouri's elected officials continued throughout the afternoon. State Auditor Tom Schweich said in a statement the Missouri Republican Party "is going through a difficult time due to the shocking and very offensive comments from our Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate."
"While our party sorts through this issue and works to find a path forward, we must keep one fact in mind: our ultimate objective in this election is to defeat Sen. Claire McCaskill and her pro-Obama agenda and replace her with someone who will truly represent Missouri's best interests," Schweich said.
And after stating in a Facebook post that his comments were "barbaric and sickening," state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said that Akin "should exit the U.S. Senate race immediately." Schaefer's opponent in his re-election bid -- state Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia -- put out a statement on Sunday stating that "misinformation and callous disregard for women should not be tolerated."
Politico reported that Phyllis Schlafly, a prominent social conservative from Missouri, is still backing Akin's bid.
Meanwhile, the country's most powerful Democrat -- President Barack Obama -- stated that Akin’s remarks were “offensive.”
"Rape is rape," said Obama. "And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me."
Akin was supposed to appear on KMOX’s Charlie Brennan show, but that appearance was canceled. He announced on Huckabee's program he was staying in the race, reiterating that claim in a Tweet that asked for donations and during an appearance on Sean Hannity's radio show. (End of update)
The controversy starts
The furor began Sunday morning when Charles Jaco aired an interview with Akin on KTVI. After Jaco asked him whether he supported banning abortion in the case of rape, Akin replied "First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. …If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
He then continued, "Let's assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
Hours after the interview aired, Akin's comments had become widely circulated throughout the national media. They were condemned by everyone from McCaskill, who called the comment "beyond comprehension," to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who called the remarks "inexcusable."
"Congressmans Akin's comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," said Romney during a telephone interview with National Review Online. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."
While Akin released a statement claiming that he "misspoke," he didn’t specify what comment he was disavowing. The statement also reiterated that Akin was opposed to abortion even in the case of rape.
Akin's assertion — that pregnancies rarely result from rape — was also roundly condemned as inaccurate. Some pointed to a 1996 study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that noted roughly 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year. The term "legitimate rape" also drew ire, as it was perceived as particularly insensitive to victims and their families.
(Start of update) The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network released a statement that Akin's claim was "ridiculous."
"While there was such a time when it was commonly believed that pregnancy couldn't result from rape, that time was hundreds of years ago. Now we know better," the statement said. "Each year, thousands of women become pregnant as the result of rape, and many more survivors are faced with PTSD, depression and other long-term results of the crime. Supporting survivors — and recognizing the impact of the crime on them — is the very least we should expect from our political leaders." (End of update)
Appearing on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," McCaskill said Akin’s statement is "kind of a window into Todd Akin’s mind." She also said the comments show this "is not someone who want speaking for us on our values on the floor of the United States Senate."
"If you really look at his record, you realize that while this is jaw-dropping and stunning, I spent 10 years as a prosecutor in the courtroom and did hundreds and hundreds of rape cases," McCaskill said. "[I] held their hands, cried with them. That's why for me this is incredibly painful."
"Because it shows how many people are out there — sometimes in very important positions — who just don’t understand the trauma and don’t understand what it means," she added.
Too little, too late?
Akin's social conservatism has been a hallmark of his decades-long political career. During the primary, his television ads noted frequently that he was a "defender of the unborn" who would rigorously oppose abortion.
On his website, Akin notes that he was a board member of Missouri Right to Life. He also showcased on the site his cosponsorship of several bills aimed at barring taxpayer funding of abortion. One of them was the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which would have at one point barred any federal Medicaid money from being spent on any abortion deemed not "forcible rape."
McCaskill's campaign pointed out that he was also a co-sponsor to the so-called "personhood" legislation, a failed bill that would have defined human life as beginning with fertilization.
Pam Fichter, the president of Missouri Right to Life's political action committee, said in a a statement that her organization "supports Congressman Akin's defense of the life of an innocent unborn child conceived by rape."
"We also support his statement of compassion and support for victims of sexual assault," Fichter said. "Congressman Akin's consistent defense of innocent unborn human life clearly contrasts with the anti-life position of Sen. Claire McCaskill who supports abortion on demand for the full nine months of pregnancy, opposed the ban on partial-birth abortion, and supported the Obama health-care law, which will greatly expand abortions in this country using our tax dollars."
Missouri law suggests that Akin has until tomorrow to withdrawal from the ballot, although NBC political analyst Chuck Todd noted that it would be possible for Akin to step aside in a more convoluted manner by September 25.
(Start of update) State law indicates that "a person nominated as a party's candidate" shall withdraw "at or before 5:00 p.m. on whatever day may be fixed by law as the final date for withdrawing as a candidate for the office, the party nominating committee for any established political party may select a party candidate."
If Akin withdraws tomorrow, a new candidate would have to be filed with the secretary of state by September 18. (End of update)
But as the Beacon reported yesterday, some Republicans privately doubt that he will be swayed by the national pressure or criticism, even from prominent Republicans.
Just how politically damaging was Akin's remark?
National political handicappers — such as the New York Times' Nate Silver and the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato — had moved the Missouri Senate race into "leaning Republican" territory after Akin won the primary. On Sunday, Silver said that Akin’s comment had moved the race decisively toward McCaskill.
In an e-mail to the Beacon, Sabato said Akin's comments "confirms why McCaskill and the Democrats were pulling for him to win the GOP primary," referring to a widely held theory that McCaskill's ads against Akin during the primary were less-than-subtle attempts to provide him with more support.
"The real question is what happens to Akin," Sabato said. "Does he apologize and backtrack enough to make this go away? Does he avoid further misstatements and controversies — or is he one of those ideologues who just can't help himself? Do major Missouri Republicans start pushing for him to step aside? I don't know the answers to these questions. Perhaps you do. But they will determine Akin's fate."
Still, Sabato said, McCaskill isn’t necessarily the favorite. He noted that Republicans would benefit if Romney prevails in Missouri by a wide margin, adding that "with a generic GOP Senate nominee, this would be a gimme for the Republicans."
"If Akin can find ways to repair the damage, and then stick a sock in it going forward, he can still win," Sabato said. "Everything I see suggests Missouri does not want to re-elect McCaskill. But an incumbent is a somebody, and you can't beat a somebody with a candidate who is determined to grind himself into nobody status."