1:57 pm Aug. 21, 2012
With a few notable, inconvenient exceptions, the Republican Party has decided on a clear plan of action toward its Senate candidate in Missouri, Todd Akin. They need to get him out of the picture.
Akin is saying things about "legitimate rape," and the Romney campaign is already working hard to overcome a very serious problem with women voters and, well, it's an easy call.
The Democratic Party’s prerogative, though, is slightly more nuanced.
Yes, they're going to use Akin's comments to rouse the base, and raise money and generally remind female voters why it would be a problem for them if Republicans controlled Congress and the White House.
But the thing is, it's a really good thing for them to have Akin hanging around—as of this moment, he's maintaining that he intends to stay in his race against incumbent Claire McCaskill—and they don’t want to push him out in favor of a stronger candidate, at least not before today's 5 p.m. deadline. (After the deadline, the Republicans would have to go to court to replace Akin.)
So they don't want to unleash the hounds just yet, but they also don’t want to just let the issue slip away during these important early moments when voters and the media are beginning to discuss it.
Also, even as leading Republicans from Romney on down put distance between themselves and Akin by denouncing his remarks, the Democrats will want to ensure that the conversation is not just about Akin and one comment, but rather the degree to which his remarks are emblematic of the larger Republican Party's actual consensus positions on abortion rights.
For a glimpse into how the Democrats will seek to balance these competing imperatives, look no further than the elements of Barack Obama's handling of a question about Akin at a press conference yesterday:
1. He expresses outrage.
“Well, let me, first of all, say the views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape. 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.”
By condemning the comments in the clearest of terms, Obama is making it known that he and his party find the comments reprehensible, on the substance, divorced from any political considerations. By giving a pithy soundbite on this ("Rape is rape") he’s ensuring his position is clear and will resonate.
2. He says that this is an issue about the Republican Party, not only Akin.
“So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women. And so, although these particular comments have led Governor Romney and other Republicans to distance themselves, I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions, or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape, I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party. “
In referring to a bunch of men making decisions about women’s bodies, Obama is calling back to the infamously all-male Republican-led House hearing that was held in February to discuss contraceptive policy. And by mentioning that he disagrees with attempts to distinguish “forcible” versus “non-forcible” rape, he’s alluding to a Republican House bill sponsored by Akin and—wait for it—Paul Ryan to define “forcible” rape, in an effort to reduce abortion rights and funding for rape victims.
Whether or not Akin stays in this race, Obama’s opponents will be made to account for their record on these issues, which doesn’t look a whole lot different from the comments made by the now-marginalized senate candidate.
3. He doesn't overplay his hand.
“But I don't think that they [Romney and Ryan] would agree with the senator from Missouri in terms of his statement, which was way out there.”
By not going over the top or making provocative statements himself, Obama is effectively ensuring that the story doesn’t become about him, or somehow allow Republicans or the media to paint Akin or his party as the victims of an over-zealous prosecution, so to speak. When your opponent is self-destructing, the old saying goes, stay out of the way.
4. He doesn't do anything to push Akin to withdraw from the race.
“He was nominated by the Republicans in Missouri," Obama said in response to a question about whether Akin should drop out. "I'll let them sort that out.”