Friday, August 24, 2012

Hurricane Todd

EVERYTHING HAD been arranged. Now that the Keystone Kops bloodbath of the primary season was finally over, and at least some of the drumbeat for tax returns was beginning to fade, the Republican Party and its presumed standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, were supposed to be on a relative glide path to the party in Tampa, the Republican National Coronation.

By Sunday, everything of any importance had already been decided. The talking points were hung from the spokesmen with care. Fox News was in position; Rushbo and Coulter and RedState were doing their part. It was all over but the shouting and the balloon drop at midnight.

And then Todd Akin went on “The Jaco Report” on a station in St. Louis and changed everything.

Meteorologists from the National Weather Service and the various networks have been making dire predictions about the movements of Hurricane Isaac. At this writing, according to NOAA, the storm is expected to approach the Florida straits late Sunday, and enter the eastern Gulf of Mexico on Monday and Tuesday. For obvious reasons, the precise track isn’t known yet.

The planners for the Republican convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum insist that the event will go down, gale force winds be damned. But the gale force winds the Republicans need to worry about have already arrived. In four days, a relative unknown congressman from Missouri has injected himself into the widening national conversation about women’s reproductive rights, and in the process helped called the question on the identity of the Republican Party.

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Akin’s revisionist, Truman-era belief that victims of what he called “legitimate rape” have a biological defense mechanism that prevents pregnancy was outrageous enough. The ire among the leading conservative lights got pretty ugly. Ann Coulter called Akin a “selfish swine.” Rush Limbaugh said his comments were “absurd,” “stupid” and “untrue.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he should go, as did political personality Sarah Palin and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and on and on.

But since Monday, Akin’s own storm of outlandish conservative principle gained strength, thanks to social conservatives for whom the abortion-rights policy of the campaign apparently isn’t conservative enough. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and darling of the evangelicals, came to his defense. So did Tony Perkins, leader of the Christian conservative Family Research Council, who said “we support [Akin] fully and completely.”

Brayn Fischer, a leader of the American Family Association, was even louder in his support. “Todd Akin is right: physical trauma of forcible rape can interfere w/ hormonal production, conception,” he said in a tweet.

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THE PARTY’S attempt to marginalize Akin have backfired. We know that because of what happened Tuesday, when the Republican platform committee OK’d the draft of its platform calling for a constitutional ban on abortion with no mitigating exceptions — a platform that dovetails with Akin’s thinking.

We knew that before because anti-abortion positions taken by Rep. Paul Ryan, the “as pro-life as a person gets” Wisconsin congressman who’s now Romney’s running mate, dovetail almost perfectly with Akin’s positions — which dovetail with what is now the official Republican party platform.

All of which complicates the job for Team Romney. For months now, the philosophical rudder of the Romney campaign aircraft has been locked in a right-turn position, with Romney making all the proper noises to placate the severely conservative conservatives (many of whom cut fat checks to the Romney SuperPACs). Now, when the Romney campaign should have course-corrected and begun to tack back to the more palatable, more populated center … Romney’s all jammed up.

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The abortion issue only distills the wider problem of the Romney campaign’s core identity: It hasn’t got a core identity. Romney has been boxing himself in, little by little — first, by adopting women’s rights policy positions beloved by conservatives, during the primary season; then, by his running-mate choice of Ryan (and the extremist baggage that goes with that choice).

Now when Romney needs the center; when the importance of the votes of 62 million American women of childbearing age couldn’t be more obvious; when their outrage at an increasingly misogynistic Republican agenda couldn’t be more of an opportunity for Romney to separate himself from that agenda … he’s locked into that agenda. Body and soul. He’s got no way to get back to the center. He’s a captive of the true believers now.

So when Romney calls on one of those true believers, a certain senator from Missouri, to “exit the race” in his own state over comments on “legitimate rape,” said senator from Missouri tells the standard-bearer of the Republican Party to mind his own damn business. And makes it stick.

‪”Why couldn't he run his race, and I'll run mine?” Akin said Wednesday on Sean Hannity's radio show.‬

That same day, Perkins came to his defense. “Todd Akin has a long and distinguished record of defending women, children, and families – and unlike the GOP establishment, I refuse to throw him under the bus over one inarticulate comment for which he has apologized,” wrote Perkins in a statement as reported by CNN.

“As for the GOP, it has no rational basis for deserting Akin when it has stood by moderate Republicans who've done worse,” Perkins continued. “Singling out Todd suggests a double standard, designed to drive out social conservatives.”

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THE REPUBLICAN National Convention gets under way on Monday. As the city of Tampa prepares for a storm that was more or less predictable — August is hurricane season in Florida and the Gulf, after all — Team Romney and the RNC may be getting ready for one of their own.

Todd Akin is already in Tampa. Politico reported he’s attending a conference sponsored by the Council for National Policy, described as “a secretive coalition of powerful conservative and evangelical leaders, activists, and donors.” They may be discussing strategy; they may be discussing a way for Akin to exit gracefully.

But whether Akin stays or goes, the divided identity of the Republican Party — an identity symbolized by the variations of severity surrounding the abortion issue, a group split personality Mitt Romney will own when he formally accepts the nomination — couldn’t be more apparent.

Image credits: Akin: From the Akin campaign Web site. Isaac satellite image: NOAA. Romney and Ryan: From the campaign Web site. GOP convention logo: © 2011-12 Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention.

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