Republican hopes for taking back the Senate this year have absorbed a variety of blows in the past several months. Olympia Snowe’s retirement and Todd Akin’s comments about pregnancy and rape dramatically reduced the chances of a GOP takeover. But Richard Mourdock’s saying that a pregnancy caused by rape is something that God intended to happen may have been the coup de grace. Here’s the quote from an answer to a question about his opposition to even the rape exception on abortion:
I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
Mourdock, who toppled longtime moderate GOP incumbent Richard Lugar in a Republican primary, was locked in an unexpectedly tight race with Democrat Joe Donnelly even before last night. Donnelly has benefited from Lugar’s petulant refusal to endorse Mourdock, something that fed the perception that the Republican was a Tea Party extremist. But saying something that could be interpreted as meaning that he believed God intended rape to happen could tip the balance in the election. The loss of the Indiana seat would make it almost impossible for the Republicans to get to 50 or 51 even if they were able to pull off upsets in Ohio and Connecticut and hold onto Scott Brown’s endangered Massachusetts seat.
At the debate, Mourdock immediately understood that he had blundered and tried to explain that he didn’t mean that God wanted women to be raped:
God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does.
But that may have been too late. While his comment is really not in the same category as Todd Akin’s mind-boggling stupidity about women’s bodies shutting down during “legitimate rape,” it will be easily compared to it. No amount of explanation will prevent the Democrats from coupling him with Akin as a pair of Neanderthal Republicans who hate women and want them to suffer pregnancy as a result of rape.
In his defense, Mourdock’s position is based in a moral imperative that sees the life of a child conceived by rape as being no less important than that of one conceived by consensual sex. If you believe life begins at conception, then life is life–regardless of the circumstances. That is not a position even most of those who are morally opposed to abortion can stomach, but it is one that is based in logic. Nor is it the product of misogynist superstition such as Akin’s foolishness.
But by bringing God’s will into the equation, Mourdock opened himself up to an entirely different line of attack that could be just as damaging. If he had held a large lead over Donnelly, such as the one Akin had over unpopular incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri, he might have survived this kerfuffle, let the Democrats make what they could of it. But since the race was already a tossup, it’s hard to see how Donnelly can avoid pulling ahead in the coming days.
That creates a situation where even Mitt Romney’s coattails — assuming he has any — won’t be enough to win the Republicans the four seats they need to become a majority in the Senate. This means that even if Romney is elected and the Republicans hold the House of Representatives, the repeal of ObamaCare is going to need some Democratic support in the Senate. If the repeal effort fails, the two seats the GOP appears to be losing as a result of the issue of rape and pregnancy will loom large in the history of this chapter of political history.