How the GOP Ended Up with Todd Akin

The GOP is looking to take a majority in the Senate, and Claire McCaskill was seen as a vulnerable Democratic incumbent. So how did they end up with a loose cannon like Todd Akin? With a lot of help from McCaskill.

By now you have likely heard about Missouri rep and Senate candidate Todd Akin’s disturbingly wrong comment about how women who are the victims of “legitimate rape” are unlikely to get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” (If you’re wondering what he meant by “legitimate” rape, Akin intended to say “forcible rape”—which the FBI distinguishes from statutory rape and other sex offenses—and which was the subject of a bill co-sponsored by Akin and Paul Ryan that would have narrowed the Hyde Amendment’s allowance of federal funds for abortion in the case of rape or incest.)

As you might expect, this is not the first crazy thing Todd Akin has said in his political career. There was the time NBC edited out “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, in which Akin saw a liberal conspiracy against religion, coursing through the network and infecting its pre-taped golf segments:

I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God. And so they’ve had a long history of not being at all favorable toward many of things that have been such a blessing to our country…This is a systematic effort to try to separate our faith and God, which is a source in our belief in individual liberties, from our country. And when you do that you tear the heart out of our country.

Akin really, really cares about the Pledge of Allegiance; in 2004, he proposed the fantastical Pledge Protection Act:

which sought to strip all federal courts (including the Supreme Court) of jurisdiction over cases involving the “under God” language in the pledge of allegiance. Granted, legal experts were nearly unanimous in questioning the bill’s constitutionality and even its own internal logic. (Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts remarked on the House floor that “even by the standards that have governed the House recently, the bill before us is bizarre.”)

Other things he wants to get the government out of: student loans.

Akin said the government should be out of the student loan market altogether. “America has got the equivalent of the stage three cancer of socialism because the federal government is tampering in all kinds of stuff it has no business tampering in,” he said.

Basically, he thinks all the government should do is provide for the common defense and “manage the economy.” He’s like a hybrid of the least electable aspects of Ron Paul and Joe Walsh, representing a district that, by its Cook PVI rating, is about as conservative as John Shimkus’s downstate district (Akin’s district, right across the border in the St. Louis suburbs, is demographically similar). Though he’s been polling ahead of his opponent, Claire McCaskill, he’s not a particularly encouraging candidate for a party seeking to flip the Senate majority.

So how’d Akin win? With a lot of help from, well, Democrats:

McCaskill also may have enhanced Akin’s image among conservatives by running a TV ad that described him as “just too conservative” and telling voters that Akin had described Obama as “a complete menace to our civilization.”

“Having this notion of Huckabee saying he’s a real conservative … and then having McCaskill say this guy is too conservative was another sort of seal of approval for people who showed up on Tuesday” to vote in the Republican primary, said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

No, really. Democrats ran “attack” ads against Akin in the primary, drawing attention to his conservatism in an election that would draw out more of the base. And it worked:

Two years ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s allies invested heavily in an effort to help Sharron Angle win a contested GOP primary in Nevada after deciding she would be the easiest Republican to defeat in the fall. She won the nomination, but ultimately lost to Reid.

Now Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is running a series of television advertisements that strategists in both parties say indicates a preference for Rep. Todd Akin over primary rivals John Brunner and Sarah Steelman.

Judge for yourself, but it’s not a very critical ad, if you look at it from the perspective of a conservative: he’s a “crusader against bigger government,” has a “pro-family agenda,” ending with a halfhearted rejection of Akin, “Missouri’s true conservative is just too conservative.” As an attack ad, it’s soft batch; as electioneering, it’s pretty clever.

Akin got off to a crap start in his Senate campaign, and wasn’t considered the top candidate, or even terribly competitive, so McCaskill’s gambit was helpful (as was the placing of a “right to pray” amendment on the ballot, which juiced the very conservative-Christian Akin’s natural base). Until this weekend, it looked like it might blow up in the campaign’s face, as Akin led McCaskill by eight points. But it appears it was McCaskill’s campaign, not Missouri Republicans, who made the smart choice.

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