Todd Akin Controversy Exposes Rift Inside The GOP

The fallout from Todd Akin's rape comments on Sunday has exposed a rift in the Republican Party.

More than any other race this year, or indeed in quite some time, the Todd Akin controversy has exposed a rift between the evangelical/social conservative wing of the GOP and it’s more pragmatic conservative win. Indeed, the Akin debate in the GOP isn’t even really about “conservative” Republicans v. “moderate” Republicans, because many of the people that have called upon Akin to drop out include some of the heavyweights of conservative punditry such as Michele Malkin, Mark Levin, and Ann Coulter. While Rush Limbaugh has mostly been silent about his opinions on what Akin ought to do, Sean Hannity has been fairly open in expressing the opinion that Akin is harming the party by staying in the race. The one group that has remained loyal to him, and is rallying behind him now, are evangelicals who apparently see the attacks on Akin as an attack on their no-exceptions position on abortion, even in the case of rape and incest (most of these people do at least seem to concede the propriety of abortion if it is necessary to save the life of the mother.) As a result, the internal battle in the GOP over the Akin controversy is a microcosm of the broader tension between religious conservatives and the rest of the GOP.

For his part, Akin shows absolutely no signs of changing his mind about staying in the race, despite having dropped some hints on Wednesday that seemed to indicate this option was on the table. Yesterday, after a day of meetings with evangelical leaders in Tampa, Akin announced again that he was staying in the race, claiming that he was standing up for principles before politics:

Rep. Todd Akin held a news conference Friday afternoon in Missouri to say what he’s been saying all week: He’s staying in the race.

“There are some people who are having trouble understanding our message,” he said. “We are going to be here through the November election and we are going to be here to win.”

A source close to Akin said the congressman felt boosted by support from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and conservative leaders he met with at a Council for National Policy conference in Tampa, Fla., earlier in the week.

Practically every national Republican has called for Akin to get out of the Senate race, fearing he will lose to incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. McCaskill is seen as having one of the most vulnerable seats in the Senate.

“I may not be the favorite candidate of some people within the Republican establishment but the voters made a decision and this is an election, not a selection,” he said.

He reiterated that he managed to win the primary by six points after being significantly outspent.

Akin noted on Twitter he’s also encouraged by his fundraising since the controversy erupted over his “legitimate rape” remarks. CNN reported Akin had raised $206,000 since he made the “legitimate rape” comment last Sunday. In an email to supporters Friday, the Missouri Republican said he wanted to raise $212,000 by midnight.

While pretty much the entire GOP Establishment, both in Missouri and nationwide, have repudiated Akin and called on him to drop out, the five-term Congressman is getting backing from a network of social conservatives and from Mike Huckabee:

Tampa, Florida (CNN) - Mike Huckabee participated in a conference call Friday night with hundreds of Baptist pastors and Christian talk radio hosts in Missouri that was organized to coordinate a robust defense of Rep. Todd Akin as he faces pressure from Washington Republicans to drop his Senate bid against Democrat Claire McCaskill.

Akin told reporters in St. Louis today that he would not quit the race.

Speaking harshly about establishment Republicans who have tried to force Akin from the Missouri race, Huckabee at one point compared the National Republican Senatorial Committee to “union goons” who “kneecap” their enemies.

The former Arkansas governor said party bosses were “opening up rounds and rounds” of ammunition on Akin and “then running over with tanks and trucks and leaving him to be ravaged by the other side.”

“This is unprecedented, to see to this orchestrated attempt to humiliate and devastate a fellow Republican,” Huckabee said of Akin, who has deep ties to the Christian conservative movement. Akin spent Thursday in Florida meeting with evangelical leaders and evaluating his political future.

Huckabee said he spoke directly with NRSC officials this week and was assured that they would begin to dial back their offensive against Akin. He said party officials specifically told him they would stop pressuring Akin’s consultants and campaign vendors to drop the congressman as a client.

A Republican source provided CNN with the dial-in information for the call, which was convened by Don Hinkle, the editor of ‘The Pathway,’ a publication of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

(…)

Acknowledging the political damage done to Akin, Huckabee encouraged the pastors and radio hosts to aggressively defend Akin to their congregations and listeners.

“The poll numbers need to come back up,” he said. “Todd needs to show that he can raise money and be competitive. That will be a game changer. If not, the pressure will still be there for Todd to exit the race and clear the field for somebody else.”

A spokesman for the NRSC, Brian Walsh, took issue with Huckabee’s comments Friday.

“We have a great deal of respect for Governor Huckabee and regret that we do not see eye to eye with him on this race,” Walsh said in an email to CNN. “It’s important to set the record straight though that the types of tactics he describes simply did not happen and further, no one at the NRSC has even spoken with the Governor this week.”

Clearly, the evangelicals are united behind Akin, and Mike Huckabee has taken it upon himself to be a crusader against the leaders of his own party. In that context, the numbers on the ground are particularly important. I’ve already made note of the Rasmussen poll showing Akin ten points behind McCaskill in the wake of the controversy. Now, another poll shows that Todd Akin is now trailing Claire McCaskill in Missouri’s Senate race, and that most Missouri voters don’t really like him very much:

The beleaguered U.S. Senate campaign of Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) was hit with another discouraging development Friday evening, with a new poll showing him trailing Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) by 9 points while being viewed unfavorably by a majority of likely Missouri voters.

According to the survey, conducted by Mason-Dixon on behalf of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis-based CBS affiliate KMOV-TV, McCaskill leads the embattled Akin among likely voters, 50 percent to 41 percent. That’s a sharp reversal from Mason-Dixon’s poll of the race a month ago before the Republican primary, when Akin held a 5-point advantage over the Democratic incumbent in a hypothetical matchup.

McCaskill’s newfound lead can be largely attributed to an enormous gender gap. The poll shows the first-term senator with a massive lead over Akin among women voters, 55 percent to 37 percent. A month ago, McCaskill held a mere 1-point edge over Akin among women.

(…)

Akin’s favorability rating took a meteoric collapse in the poll, dropping to an anemic 17 percent, while a whopping 56 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable view. PPP and Rasmussen also showed large majorities of Missouri voters holding a negative view of Akin. In Mason-Dixon’s late-July survey, before Akin won his party’s primary and nearly a month before he gained nationwide attention for the “legitimate rape” comments, 24 percent viewed Akin favorably compared with only 11 percent who viewed him unfavorably — a reflection of his low name identification at the time.

Friday’s poll shows that 47 percent of Missouri voters think Akin should withdraw his nomination, including 50 percent of his own supporters. Thirty-seven percent believe Akin should remain in the race. McCaskill supporters are divided on the question: 40 percent believe her Republican challenger should end his campaign, while 44 think he should stick it out.

The RCP Average is now at +6.0 in McCaskill’s favor and, given the unfavorable numbers that Akin faces, one can only assume that the gap between the two will continue to widen.

What will be interesting to see is what happens when this race is over. If Akin loses, which seems to be the most likely outcome, then many in the GOP will blame the loss on Akin’s extreme position on abortion. Evangelicals, on the other hand, are likely to blame it on what they’ll likely see as Akin being stabbed in the back by the party leadership. Things will become even more complicated if Akin’s loss also causes Mitt Romney to lose Missouri, a state that the GOP is counting on winning again this year if they are going to have any chance at all of beating Barack Obama in the Electoral College. In that case, the Akin disaster could end up being the starting point for a much more profound battle inside the GOP, such as the one that could have been had if Mitch Daniels’s suggestion of a “social issues truce” had been taken seriously by his fellow Republicans.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. That’s all true, but we need to add that:

    GOP rejects rape exception in platform

    The “no exception” folk are not outsiders at all.

  2. Commonist says:

    Snort.

    The rift among non-democrats is simple: there’s the crowd that’s isn’t stupid and psychotic enough to speak openly about what the they all really want and then there’s the crowd that is stupid and psychotic enough to speak candidly. The first group (the “moderates” and “thoughtful wonks”) doesn’t actually consider “loose” women or gays to be worth defending against any kind of political attacks or oppression but they most definitely don’t want the second group to start attacking the non-democrats’ enemies prematurely.

    The first group learned from Dubya: speak centrist, then when the media has helped you win assault the parts of America you secretly despise. The second group is too hungry for blood and suffering to care about optics.

    Both groups must be hated and antagonized until they don’t want to live anymore.

  3. Very much related:

    Take a look around key committees of the House and you’ll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri’s Representative Todd Akin’s take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who’s been raped.

    On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom. Congress incubates and insulates these knuckle-draggers.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    So, this rift is between Republicans and conservatives who:

    On the one hand: are upset that he (Akin) came right out and said what a significant proportion of the Republican Party believes, and has incorporated into its draft party platform, and

    On the other hand: those who believe that he (Akin) should not be cast out for saying it honestly and directly, and besides, eventually someone was going to make public the draft party platform document anyway.

    It begs the question: Did Akin not know that the entire GOP was sworn to secrecy, a code of silence, on speaking about “legitimate” rape?

  5. Fiona says:

    I’m sure there are no small number of establishment Republicans who’d like the party to dial back on the social issues in favor of a more moderate tone. But, having actively courted the evangelical vote, they’re no stuck with it and, not surprisingly, this faction of the party wants actual power rather than mere lip service.

    Akin has no reason to back down and withdraw from the Missouri senate race. If, as is likely, he loses, he becomes a martyr for the cause. As for Huckabee, I bet he’s gearing up for 2016 and the battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. A Romney loss will only strengthen the evangelicals’ belief that a moderate (which is what they all suspect Romney of being) cannot win. Only a true believer can carry the party to victory.

  6. Nikki says:

    most of these people do at least seem to concede the propriety of abortion if it is necessary to save the life of the mother

    Cite? ‘Coz truly that is a fact not in evidence.

    I’ve also read that the push to get Akin out of the race is part of the establishment folk trying to smack back the tea partiers and socons. I personally believe it’s a combination of that and what john personna and Commonist have brought up. But whatevs…it all boils down to the slow implosion of the Republican party, truly a thing of beauty to behold.

  7. Latino_in_Boston says:

    The game is this: the GOP has moved further to the right and their policies are by en large not supported by the majority of the American public, thus the party tries to obfuscate and hide the details running, instead on platitudes, slogans and empty promises. That is not to say that there are no moderate Republicans left, but they are not who is driving the party’s policies, and in terms of voters, many seem to vote for them mostly because they distrust the Democrats. This same dynamic seems to also be at play when discussing policies in general. For many people just saying the Democrats want to do x automatically means that that must be a bad policy. I mean, if you believe that Obama is a secret muslim hell-bent on destroying America anything he wants to do by definition must be a bad policy. That largely explains, in my view, the virulent opposition to PPACA despite the fact that huge majorities like the individual parts of the plan (with the exception of the mandate–a conservative invention–of course).

    So people like Akin are extremely dangerous to the party, because they are the true believers and lay bare the extreme (and actual) positions of the party. They either a) believe that the majority of people support their policies (and those who don’t are not worth listening to anyway or b) even if they knew for certain that a majority of people would not prefer their policies, it wouldn’t matter because God does, and who can trump God? Since they are true believers, they also don’t know/want/have the ability to disguise their policy preferences with centrist details. Akin, after all, got in trouble because he was trying to show how pro-life he was and was dismissing concerns for the exceptions that people usually want (in this case rape).

    The powers that be, then, recognized this immediately and wanted to shut down the Akin show because they know that not only would they lose an extremely valuable seat in the race for Senate supremacy, but it would bring unwanted light to the extreme (and actual) votes of the party. But I really would not read this as a rift in terms of policy, but rather a division in terms of strategy. How often do you think the powers that be have heard this type of rhetoric in GOP circles? If they have spent any time among the pro-life movement, it would have been often and of course, no one condemned it before. It’s what you’ve been sowing, GOP, you’re going to have to live with it.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    They really do want to take us to a landscape out of The Handmaiden’s Story, don’t they?

    And what’s even more outlandish is that if the Tea Partiers and socons were able to create the world they so desperately long for, the US would be a sitting dead duck for any country which did push science and technology and research. The world the solons would go back to would have epidemics, a minimal level of medicine, and an economy based on subsistence farming.

    Frankly, I think we should just set aside one of the states already dominated by these idiots, put a big wall outside it, and move the rest of them there. Provide them with bibles, a herd of goats, and some tents, then turn them loose. If they think a “biblical existence” is that important, then they can live that way as well.

  9. Just to hit the theme some more

    The United States is very different in this respect. There, leading politicians who choose to call themselves “fiscal conservatives” – such as Paul Ryan, now the Republican Party’s presumptive vice-presidential nominee to run alongside presidential candidate Mitt Romney in November’s election – care more about cutting taxes, regardless of the effect on the federal deficit and total outstanding debt. Why do US fiscal conservatives care so little about government debt, relative to their counterparts in other countries?

    It is ALL about faith-based policy.

  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Let’s see… Akin took scads of money from Democrats in the primary, pretty much every Republican is dumping on him and running away from him, and this guy is supposed to be representing the GOP?

    The main difference between Akin and Biden is that Biden’s own party refuses to repudiate him — or even acknowledge that he’s a complete idiot.

  11. Commonist says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    “pretty much every Republican is dumping on him and running away from him, and this guy is supposed to be representing the GOP?”

    AND THEN THEY PUT HIS BELIEFS INTO THEIR OFFICIAL PARTY PLATFORM, GENIUS.

  12. David says:

    If you haven’t heard Akin’s “press” conference, I recommend finding it. As a local conservative talk radio host said, the people who got to ask one of the 5 questions that were taken (yes, he only took 5) were either plants or idiots. To say the questions were softballs is an understatement. Even with easy questions, he still couldn’t answer the following question with an answer that made sense.

    Is there anything that could make you reconsider your decision, such as family or god?

    His answer was he might reconsider if his opponent drops out of the race.

    What the hell does that even mean?

  13. MM says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Your post reminds me of a discussion that I have been having on another site, where many of us from across the political spectrum have come to realize something. Namely that a lot of Republicans really don’t understand what exactly is offensive about what Akin said. You know that there’s a backlash and anger, but it’s all happening around you like people arguing in a foreign language you have never learned.

  14. MM says:

    @David: Mr. Akin, your campaign has the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?

  15. David says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Just what are Akin’s positions that are different than the republican party? No abortion, same. Federal student loan program should be ended, same. Medicare should be changed to a voucher program, same. Lower taxes good, less spending on “entitlements” better, same.

    Please enlighten us on how he isn’t a true republican?

  16. grumpy realist says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: You may hate to admit it, but Akin IS running as the Republican candidate for this seat. So yes, he does represent the Republican party.

    And given that Romney palled around last year with the doctor doofus who came up with the stupid “women who get raped don’t conceive” idiocy, until everyone comes out loud and clear and rejects that belief, then yes indeed, it is still tied to them.

    Bad enough to be raped, but then you get told that because you got pregnant it shows you weren’t really raped and that you wanted it….

    Talk about projecting so much it could be seen from the Moon. The only difference between you clowns and the Taliban is that you haven’t gotten around to killing women who got raped.

  17. David says:

    @MM: If only that question was asked. I was half expecting the last question to be “Are you a great representative or the greatest?”

  18. swbarnes2 says:

    most of these people do at least seem to concede the propriety of abortion if it is necessary to save the life of the mother

    A citation would be nice.

    But really, for the umteenth time, it doesn’t matter whats in people’s hearts. What matters is the policies that politicians enact or attempt to enact. And conservatives vote Republicans into power who do not allow for health exceptions for the woman. You know it’s right there in the platform.

    And a few Republicans have been perfectly plain about why they cannot support a policiy of a health exception. Too many “unworthy” women would get abortions under that exception, and the conservatives would rather 1000 ‘deserving’ people lose out on a benefit they truly need than 1 person get a benefit they don’t ‘deserve’.

  19. Gustopher says:

    I don’t see a rift here. It’s just a bunch of people getting pissed off that Akins mentioned the ingredients to the secret sauce on a Big Mac. They love the sauce, they know what is in it, they just want to keep it a secret.