By now, you’ve probably heard about Akin II: The Re-Akining, the comments of Republican Senate candidate from Indiana Richard Mourdock, talking about abortion and rape at a debate. Who knows why a Republican sees the words “abortion” and “rape” at this point and thinks “Let me try to work up a talking point here,” but that’s what we got:
Defending his stance that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape, Mourdock explained that pregnancy resulting from nonconsensual sex is the will of God.
“I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mourdock said. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
It’s time we stopped calling these “gaffes” and started calling them “the social conservative set of beliefs on rape,” which we’re now learning are quite extensive. This one doesn’t create a new female anatomical reality to justify the extreme stance, merely makes a theological argument that we mustn’t question the ways of the man upstairs, even when a woman is forcibly inseminated against her will, and there’s a legal medical procedure available to her so she doesn’t have to carry her rapist’s child to term. Mourdock’s is at least the logically consistent position, and that allows us to take a hard look at that logic.
However, there’s a difference here between this situation and the Akin race, where incumbent, pro-choice, female Sen. Claire McCaskill benefited from the remarks. As Dave Weigel points out, Mourdock’s opponent in Indiana is Blue Dog Rep. Joe Donnelly. He actually supported the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act of 2011, which would have allowed taxpayer funding for abortions only in the case of “forcible rape” (this was later softened to rape, because embarrassment). Donnelly is trying to capitalize on the situation by expressing outrage, but from a policy standpoint there isn’t that much difference between the candidates, other than one being capable of shame.
The candidate in a position to benefit from this, actually, is Barack Obama. That’s because Mitt Romney decided, out of every Republican in America, to cut an ad for Mourdock endorsing his candidacy. Romney has already distanced himself from Mourdock’s comments, saying he “disagrees” with them.
The Akin story did propel Democrats back in late August by calling up the whole “war on women” narrative. I could see the same situation happening again, this time within two weeks of the election. It certainly doesn’t help the GOP cause, even if Mourdock can still limp home in Indiana (not a guarantee, the polls have been close and Democrats already reserved ad time in the state).
UPDATE: Here’s how John Cornyn, the head of the Republican campaign arm in the Senate, will try to thread this needle:
“Richard and I, along with millions of Americans – including even Joe Donnelly – believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous,” Cornyn said. “In fact, rather than condemning him for his position, as some in his party have when it’s come to Republicans, I commend Congressman Donnelly for his support of life.”
In other words, emphasize the similarities to diffuse the issue. Which could easily work.