Today is the last day that Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin can get off the ballot in Missouri, but there is no indication that he will avail himself of the opportunity. Akin, who turned himself into a national laughing stock with his notorious comments about rape and pregnancy, appears poised to flush his party’s once bright hopes for picking up a Senate seat down the drain. But he isn’t alone. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was otherwise coming to grips with the obscurity that comes from being a presidential primary also-ran, has become Akin’s loudest supporter these days.
Gingrich is urging the national Republican Party to back off from its vows to cut Akin off from funds and says the Missouri race is still a “winnable race.” The polls would indicate he’s wrong about that as Akin’s comments quickly transformed a big GOP lead into a Democratic advantage, and there’s no sign that’s about to change. Nor is it likely many Republicans will respond positively to Gingrich’s declaration that the party has a “moral obligation” to back Akin. But his crusade on behalf of what is looking like a forlorn hope for the GOP is accomplishing one thing: it’s got Newt’s name back into the news.
If Akin’s determination to stay in the race is not as big a story as it was a month ago, that’s because in the intervening weeks, the Republicans have discovered they have bigger problems than Todd Akin. In August, the party’s biggest concern was whether one appalling comment would cost them a Senate seat that might be the difference between taking the Senate or of remaining in the minority. Though the GOP’s Senate hopes are not dead, they have been sidelined by fears that President Obama is assuming a lead in the presidential race that they may not be able to overcome.
But Akin’s forlorn hope is just the thing Gingrich needs to attract a little publicity. The former speaker has taken to referring to Akin’s critics the same way he bloviated about those who thought his presidential quest was hopeless. But just as those who invested heavily in Gingrich were wasting their money (yes, I’m talking about you Sheldon Adelson), the National Republican Senatorial Committee and super-PACs like Crossroads GPS would be crazy to divert any resources into the effort to defeat incumbent Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. Though she remains deeply unpopular, Akin (whose narrow primary victory was materially aided by the senator in order to give her the weakest possible opponent) is a lost cause.
It may be too late to undo the damage Akin did to the entire Republican Party by feeding into the Democrats’ faux war on women theme. But it won’t help Romney or any other Republican who still does have a chance for the party to reverse its decision to treat Akin like a pariah.
But Gingrich is, as he always has been, in business for himself here. While he is the sort of personality who may never completely fade away, this is the last election cycle in which he can credibly masquerade as a serious player. Just as he kept his presidential quest going long after he was finished, he is milking the Akin shipwreck for an extra few days or weeks of publicity. Though Republicans have bigger problems these days than Akin or Gingrich, the former speaker’s last stand in Missouri may be an appropriately disastrous finish for the GOP’s political year: 2012 began with Gingrich seeking to discredit Romney by attacking his business career in a manner that Democrats soon copied. It could end with Akin sabotaging Romney and the GOP in a state they must win.