As Jonathan mentioned earlier, if on November 7 the Republicans find themselves still in the minority in the Senate, they will have two people to thank: Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana. Both candidates, in the midst of their election campaigns, made incredibly ill-advised comments on their beliefs about exemptions for abortion in the case of rape.
Akin’s comments in late August received overwhelming condemnation–and quickly–as Republicans across the country called for his immediate withdrawal. In August I wrote about how Republicans, unlike Democrats, were quick to ask a candidate to withdraw their candidacy after ignorant and offensive comments were made. Akin remains a pariah with very little assistance either financially or otherwise from Republicans or conservative leaders, while Joe Biden (who has made something of a sport out of making offensive pronouncements) proudly maintains his position on President Obama’s ticket.
Many Republicans have already disavowed Mourdock’s comments, including Mitt Romney and Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. There are some high-powered Republicans that have refused to do so this time around, Texas Senator John Cornyn of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) being one. Why have Republicans not given Richard Mourdock the Todd Akin treatment and thrown his candidacy under the bus? Why have some prominent Republicans even defended his remarks?
There is a clear difference between Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, as candidates and as pro-lifers. Akin was already a troubled candidate with a campaign that is run, to an inappropriate degree, by inexperienced members of his family. Akin’s comments showcased a shocking degree of ignorance on how the human body and female reproductive system operates. To refresh your memory, he told a St. Louis television station, ”If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” While Akin, like Mourdock, is in favor of banning abortions except to save the life of the mother, Akin seemed to believe that the issue was moot–that a woman could not get pregnant after a rape because her body, somehow, had the ability to form a distinction between a consensual and a non-consensual sexual encounter. After the comments, Akin’s candidacy appeared to be in a free-fall, as it seemed that parts of his campaign were incommunicative with others. Media appearances, like one scheduled for Larry King, were canceled at the last minute, while other interviews, like one that took place on Sean Hannity’s radio show, were absolutely painful to listen to and should have never been scheduled by his campaign without more rehersal and preparation.
Mourdock’s comments were, in contrast, consistent with the overall position of pro-life Christians that every life, regardless of how it is created, is sacred, loved by God, and deserves protection. During the debate last night Mourdock stated, “I just struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” The outrage is, rightfully, centered on the second half of that comment where it seems to indicate that Mourdock believes that a rape is an event that is preordained by God. Before noon on the east coast, Mourdock held a press conference to discuss his comments and clarify his position on the theological underpinnings of his pro-life stance, stating that he believes that he in no way supports rape and that it is a violent and inexcusable act. The response from the Mourdock campaign, having the candidate immediately and publicly clarify his statements to the press, was nothing like the chaotic and unprofessional reaction of the Akin campaign.
A candidate should never have to clarify their position on rape, nor should they have to hold a press conference to tell the world that they don’t believe that a rape is an act of God two weeks before election day. Especially after the furor that lasted for several weeks over Todd Akin’s statements, Richard Mourdock should have been expecting a “gotcha” question at some point in his candidacy, considering his position on rape and incest exemptions. While Mourdock’s comments aren’t in the same league as Akin’s, unfortunately for the GOP, that won’t stop the comparisons, however inaccurate. With two weeks to go before an election that was already a toss up, it might be too late for Mourdock or Republicans to correct the narrative in time to save the seat or their hopes of a GOP majority in the Senate.