Akin rubs off on Ryan
Posted: Monday, August 27, 2012 7:00 pm
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — It was one of those comments that broke through all the clutter, changing the calculus of a critical Senate race and upending the carefully planned rollout of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. It almost doesn’t matter whether Missouri Rep. Todd Akin is able to ride out the initial reaction to his assertion that in cases of “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body can shut down to prevent pregnancy, he is walking dead, politically speaking.
The Republican campaign committees are cutting off his money, and his party has turned against him. He let the first deadline pass for a resignation that would allow the Missouri state party to easily name a successor, and he’s apologized for what he calls his ill-chosen words. He meant to say “forcible rape,” a phrase that he and his House Republican colleagues favor because it would narrow the exceptions where abortion is allowed by excluding what are in their minds more ambiguous situations like date rape.
Whatever becomes of Rep. Akin, he has already had a negative impact on how his party’s vice-presidential nominee is regarded. Ryan’s chief attribute is his friendly, non-threatening demeanor, which at least in theory allows him to deliver strong opinions without making voters uneasy. The jury is out on that theory when it comes to Medicare and Ryan’s insistence that turning health care for seniors into a voucher program is necessary to save it for future generations.
Now Ryan’s persona is facing another test as women’s groups and the Obama campaign point out that Ryan holds the same views as Akin and that their voting records are identical on legislative proposals that seek to curb abortion rights. Ryan and Akin were co-authors of the legislative language that sought to redefine rape by terming it forcible rape. Like Akin, Ryan opposes exceptions for rape and incest.
The Republican convention opens next week in Tampa, and the party’s platform endorses a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit abortion in all instances, including rape and incest. Republican nominee Mitt Romney supports the amendment and his party’s platform but his presidential race has been based on the assumption that the election would be about the economy and job creation, and that social issues like abortion would not be a focus for voters.
Akin’s comments and Ryan’s close identification with the same policies elevates the issue of abortion to center stage, at least for now. The media will scrutinize the agenda Republicans have pushed on Capitol Hill, bringing unwanted attention to the national ticket about what their party supports. Senator Rand Paul, R-Kent., recently held up much need flood relief legislation by tacking on a Personhood amendment to the Constitution that would declare life begins at conception and confer full rights on a fetus from the moment of conception.
Romney has strongly condemned Akin’s remarks and said that he in no way supports him, but it will be more difficult for Ryan to separate himself from Akin’s views since he shares them. Akin may have said “legitimate” when he meant “forcible,” but it is a distinction without a difference, and many if not most voters will react negatively to both Akin’s made-up science and his attempt to separate out rape situations that should require a woman to carry a pregnancy to term versus those where he would concede a wrong has been done.
Akin in the end is a minor figure in the long sweep of history, but the Romney-Ryan ticket will pay the price. Romney picked a vice president to rally the GOP’s conservative base, and that means embracing views that many voters see as more radical than anything they could have imagined. Published in The Messenger 8.27.12