On Sunday, a six-term Congressman from Missouri running as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate went on a newsmaker program and, in defense of his pro-life views, reported that doctors say the body of a woman who has suffered a “legitimate rape” will somehow contrive to prevent a pregnancy: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” The moral, intellectual, and spiritual ignoramus who spoke those words is Todd Akin. He won the Missouri primary two weeks ago in a three-way race against two other conservatives, taking 36 percent of the vote—his two major rivals together won about 60 percent. He was supported in his bid by, among others, the Democrats who believed he would be the weakest candidate to face incumbent Claire McCaskill, widely viewed as the most vulnerable incumbent running for Senate this year. They ran ads attacking his rivals and helped him prevail.
Smart move. Akin is likely to join a list of Republican primary winners who have seized defeat from the jaws of victory—like Clayton Williams, who was running a sensational outsider candidacy for Texas governor in 1990 until he remarked that bad weather was like rape. “As long as it’s inevitable,” Williams said, “you might as well lie back and enjoy it.” Those are the words that got Ann Richards elected. Had he kept his mouth shut, he might have won the race. Had he won the race, George W. Bush would not have run to oust Richards in 1994. Had he not run in 1994, George W. Bush would not have become president in 2000.
George Allen of Virginia probably lost an unbelievably close election in 2006 because his candidacy was thrown off course by his weird offhand reference to a South Asian Democratic kid taking video of him at campaign stops as “Macaca.” Rivals suggested he was using a French word for monkey, which then opened up a can of worms about Allen’s mother—who, it turned out, was a North African Jew intent on hiding her own Jewishness. The race went haywire, and even so the Democratic candidate, James Webb, only won by 4/10s of a percent.
Apparently, if Akin withdraws by 5 pm tomorrow, the Missouri Republican party can put up a new candidate to face McCaskill. After that, he’s on the ballot for good. Call this the Bob Torricelli strategy—when the former senator from New Jersey found himself awash in an ethics scandal in 2002, he vamoosed from the race in favor of former Sen. Frank Lautenberg even though there was no legal way for this to be done. No matter. The New Jersey Supreme Court declared it legal, and Democrats retained the seat.
Akin won’t quit, though. He issued a statement yesterday saying he “misspoke,” which means he doesn’t actually think he did anything wrong. Perhaps he will be comforted by that insane knowledge when he is sitting home, unemployed and disgraced, in 2013, with control of the Senate in Democratic hands because of him.