Why Todd Akin Isn't Dropping Out—and What It Means

The Missouri Republican's decision to stay in the race hurts the GOP at all levels, from Missouri to the national ticket.

Associated Press

"We are going to continue with this race for the U.S. Senate," Rep. Todd Akin -- the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri, now and perhaps forever known as the "legitimate rape" guy -- said on Mike Huckabee's radio show Tuesday afternoon. Despite days of intense pressure from his own party to get out of the race, Akin vowed to stay in for exactly the reason many in the GOP would like him gone: to force a conversation about social issues in an election otherwise focused on the economy. If Akin sticks with his decision, and his reasoning suggests that he will, the ramifications for the Republican Party could be dire.

In the interview with Huckabee, Akin made it clear that he saw staying in the race as a stand on principle, consistent with his history of bucking the establishment and following his deep convictions. He was an outsider to begin with, ignored and underfunded in his three-way Senate primary. "The party people said, 'When you win the primary, then we'll be with you,'" Akin said. "Then I said one word in one sentence on one day, and everything changed. Now we're kind of back to where we were." He was outspent 10 to 1 in the primary, yet won by six points, he noted -- though that calculation doesn't include the $1.5 million Democrats spent boosting Akin in TV ads, which now looks like a very clever gambit indeed.

He is staying in, he said, because while the economy is important, the election also needs to include an emphasis on the blessing of life that both political parties tend to overlook. "That's the reason we are going to continue," he said. "I believe there is a cause here. There's something that's missing. A lot of people feel left out of the parties."

That Akin appears to see himself as being on a mission from God, and that he wears his political isolation so proudly, suggest that he is not likely to budge in his decision. With his reputation dashed and his political career hanging by a thread, he has nothing to lose. He still has until 6 p.m. Eastern time to withdraw from the race. Just about every major figure in the Republican Party -- from the chairman of the Republican National Committee to the Tea Party Express to Mitt Romney to a host of GOP officeholders in Missouri and nationwide -- has publicly called on him to get out. But Akin does not appear susceptible to pressure. Indeed, the fact that so much of the pressure is public suggests that party grandees are having no luck twisting his arms behind the scenes.

That Akin appears to see himself as being on a mission from God, and that he wears his political isolation so proudly, suggest that he is not likely to budge in his decision.

The GOP's unanimity on Akin shows that Republicans recognize the serious and far-reaching implications if he hangs around. Akin disagrees -- he thinks the current storm will blow over and he can still win. He has apologized, he reminded Huckabee, and voters are forgiving -- though his repeated insistence that he only got "one word" wrong calls into question somewhat the degree to which he has truly rethought his statement; there's no single word you can replace in his statement, including "legitimate" or "rape," and make it suddenly acceptable, medically, politically or otherwise. Akin pointed to an overnight poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that showed him still ahead of Democrat Claire McCaskill, 44 percent to 43 percent -- but that's before the news of Akin's statement has had much chance to set in, and before a campaign based on it has gotten under way. It seems safe to say things can only get worse for Akin, especially if he intends, as he says, to base his campaign on talking about social issues.

The consequences for the GOP of Akin's perseverance can hardly be overstated. By staying in the race, he imperils the party's chances of taking not just McCaskill's seat but the Senate majority. "It's very hard, but not completely impossible, for Republicans to win the majority if Missouri is off the table," the Cook Political Report's Senate analyst, Jennifer Duffy, told me Tuesday afternoon, as the publication was in the process of moving Missouri from the "tossup" to "likely Democratic" category. The GOP, she said, would have to win four of six tossup seats currently held by Democrats without losing the seats Republicans currently hold in Massachusetts and Nevada. That's why so many GOP senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been so frontal in their criticism of Akin, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee has said it will not support him if he goes forward with what it terms his "misguided campaign." Neither will the Karl Rove-backed GOP financial juggernaut American Crossroads, which said Tuesday that Akin was choosing to "help Democrats hold the McCaskill seat and potentially the Senate majority by staying in the race."

Akin's choice could have ramifications outside Missouri, too. It gives Democrats a new opening to portray the GOP as the "war on women" party -- and on the same day the party was in the process of approving a platform that calls for abortion to be outlawed, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The many GOP candidates who don't share Akin's extreme views, or anything resembling them, don't relish spending time talking about these kinds of divisive social issues rather than continuing to pound President Obama and his party on the economy. And Akin's history as a loose cannon -- a few months ago, for example, he compared federally funded student loans to cancer -- suggests this may not be the last mess he creates for his party.

Akin will be selling a message, going forward, of steadfastness, sincerity and defiance. "Our campaign, in the past, was defined by the fact that we stood on principle. We acted with courage," he told Huckabee. "What I am doing here is standing on a principle about what America is." Unfortunately for the Republican Party, Todd Akin seems to truly believe that's what he's doing.