“Former Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri died late Sunday at age 74,” the AP tells us in its Twitter feed. “He sunk his 2012 bid for Senate with a comment about ‘legitimate rape.’”
In shrinking a man’s life to a single sound bite, the AP not only betrayed the essence of the man, but it also missed the nut of the story. Akin did not sink his bid. That bid was sunk from under him by the GOP’s most calculating bigwigs, none more soulless than strategist Karl Rove. “We should sink Todd Akin,” Rove publicly joked that August. “If he’s found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!”
I got to know Todd Akin well over the years. I first met him in October 2012. Although I supported one of his opponents in Missouri’s senatorial primary that August, I was asked to introduce him and Newt Gingrich then stumping for Todd in a last ditch effort to salvage his campaign.
Two years later, I edited Todd’s book, Firing Back. In the course of this project I met Todd’s stalwart wife Lulli and many of his six children, all of whom adored their father and stuck with him through his travails. If there was a more decent and authentic Christian and conservative in politics, I have not met that person.
Ten days after the 2012 primary election, August 17, Akin famously sat for an interview in the studios of Fox 2, KTVI, a St. Louis-area TV-station. The interview was to air two days later on Sunday, August 19.
The interviewer, Charles Jaco, had a hard time disguising his contempt for the mild-manner congressman. As Todd himself sensed, Jaco’s goal was to cajole him into making a damaging gaffe. For the most part, Todd handled Jaco pretty well, finessing some tough questions on school lunches, student loans, the Seventeenth Amendment, even on the 1965 Voting Rights Act. As Jaco understood, nothing worked better then or now than tagging a Republican as a racist.
This being the year of the Republican’s imagined war on women — recall Rush’s Sandra Fluke and Romney’s “portfolio of women” — Jaco inevitably zeroed in on abortion. He was clever enough to know that Todd’s principled consistency on the issue could be his Achilles heel.
Needing a useful sound bite, Jaco prodded Todd into dangerous territory. “What about in the case of rape?” Jaco smirked. “Should it be legal or not?” After calmly explaining that this was a tough ethical question, Todd responded, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” In context, Todd’s answer seemed so measured that Jaco did not challenge him.
When the Jaco Report aired on Sunday morning, a tracker from the camp of Sen. Claire McCaskill, Akin’s opponent, spotted the “gaffe” and posted it on Twitter. The foot soldiers of the left-leaning media oligopoly took it from there. McCaskill was armed and ready for the 5 o’clock news. “I was stunned by what he said and how he said it,” she claimed. “But it opened a window into his mind and showed his beliefs. And I’m very familiar with a long list of items where congressman Akin is outside the mainstream.”
In his book Firing Back, Todd argued that his comments could have been a net gain for the GOP if Romney had said the following, “A credibly accused rapist is giving the keynote speech at the Democratic convention in two weeks, and you want me to denounce a decent, God-fearing man for his inelegant comments about rape? No, not happening, and if the truth hurts, put some ice on it.”
Of course, Romney said no such thing. By late Sunday, his people had issued a release staking out a predictably craven and illogical position for his allegedly pro-life campaign, “Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement. A Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
Romney himself was even less forgiving, “Congressman’s Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong,” he said. “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.” Despite his 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan added, “His comments about rape were deeply offensive, and I can’t defend what he said. I can’t defend him.”
Always eager for media brownie points, Sen. John McCain chimed in, “What he said was unacceptable and we Republicans have to consider all options, and to start with, make sure Mr. Akin knows he will not have the support of the mainstream Republican Party or any of our organizations.” By Monday morning, Karl Rove’s “super PAC,” American Crossroads, announced it was pulling all advertising in support of Todd.
The instant brouhaha obscured what it was that anyone found “offensive.” Democrats focused less on the rape issue itself than on the word “legitimate.” Had Todd used the phrase “rape-rape” as Whoopi Goldberg did in her defense of the indefensible Roman Polanski, the outrage might have been justified. In Todd’s case, the outrage was manufactured.
Democrats and Republicans alike also mocked Todd for seeming to imply that rape could not result in pregnancy. He might have been more artful in his phrasing, but he implied no such thing. Several young adults who had been conceived in rape were working on his campaign. Todd knew firsthand that rape could lead to pregnancy, and, unlike his wobbly “pro-life” peers, Todd was man enough to stand up for a child so conceived.
Ignoring the cries for him to withdraw, Todd persisted. When I met up with him and the admirable Newt Gingrich in October, he had clawed his way back into the race. Then, as he feared, the McCaskill camp dropped an ad, wrote Todd, “so lethal that it almost made me rethink who I was voting for.” The ad starred the GOP worthies who had trashed Akin — Romney, Ryan, McCain, and a few Missourians as well. The ad culminated with Romney standing next to Paul Ryan and saying, “It was offensive. He should step out of the race.”
On Sunday, October 3, Todd Akin finally did step out of the race, leaving behind a legacy — for those who care to look — of a life well and honorably lived.
Jack Cashill’s latest book, Barack Obama’s Promised Land: Deplorables Need Not Apply, is now widely available. See www.cashill.com for more information.