The “legitimate rape” comment is hardly the first controversial thing rogue Senate candidate Todd Akin has said in his career. So why did national Republican leadership stand by silently as he shot to victory — with the help of $1.5 million in Democratic money — in such a critical Republican Senate primary? You would think the fact that Claire McCaskill was running pro-Akin ads should have been enough of a red flag.
One reason could be that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has declined to endorse and fund candidates in open seat primaries, after the blowback it received from the conservative grassroots in 2009 and 2010. Back then; NRSC came under massive fire from the Tea Party for backing “RINO” Republicans like Charlie Crist (over Rubio in Florida), Lisa Murkowski (over Joe Miller in Alaska) and Arlen Specter (over Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania). Conservatives inundated the phone lines of the NRSC and its chair Sen. John Cornyn’s office, demanding support for Tea Party-approved candidates.
In many cases, the Tea Party was right. Rubio and Toomey were far superior to Crist and Specter, and they were competitive candidates to boot. But the Tea Party also got some bets really, really wrong — like when Christine O’Donnell cost Republicans a Senate seat.
Faced with boycott calls and angry tirades from talk radio hosts and bloggers, the NRSC apparently decided it was best to just stay out of the open races rather than face the wrath of the grassroots. It’s not a bad policy, but it also makes it more difficult for them to protect critical seats from self-immolating candidates.