If one has any doubts that bipartisanship is dead in America, he need look no further than the controversy swirling around Rep. Todd Akin. Last week, an obscure Congressman few people outside of Missouri had ever heard of, he is now the most hated man in America, with both Democrats (with the notable exception of Sen. Claire McCaskill– his opponent in the Senate race) and Republicans in an apparent bidding war to demonstrate to the American people just how much they despise Rep. Akin. Never fear, bipartisanship is alive and well.
I will admit to finding the reaction among Republicans somewhat curious. While the good Congressman’s comments were rather stupid, the harshest reaction to them appears to be coming from within his own party. Such diverse members of the party as Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, and the usual party brass have all publicly announced that Akin should withdraw from the race. Indeed, one has trouble finding any Republican publicly supporting the embattled candidate. This, I think, is the problem. While Akin certainly did himself no favors with his little detour into biological insanity, the party hasn’t exactly helped things very much. One could argue that the GOP has, in effect, taken what should have been a bad case of the flu and turned it into Stage 4 Cancer. All of these public denunciations do nothing to advance the position of the party (or conservatism, or however you like to phrase it), but only serve to undermine an increasingly weak candidate. The Republican reflex that makes party leaders run for the nearest microphone or camera every time a scandal breaks out only hurts the cause. Conversations regarding a candidate’s withdrawal from a race ought to be held behind closed doors and out of the public eye, not on the front page of the New York Times. This way, if the candidate decides to remain in the race, the party doesn’t lose face and isn’t left in the awkward situation of having to concede a very winnable seat to the Democrats. It’s not as if the RNC can publicly disavow a candidate, withdraw all financial and logistical support, and then come back the next week and change its mind. To be honest, I’m not even sure what these people (from Romney on down) were trying to accomplish. Publicly abandoning the party’s nominee to the wolves is just as stupid as Akin’s decision to play scientist on TV.
In a related vein, what happened to all of the talk about party unity? For months, the GOP bigwigs have been chastising the base about the need to unify behind Romney, even if they (the base) really don’t like him. The message has been more or less, “Put up or shut up” and “At least he’s not Obama.” Where is this unassailable need for unity as it concerns Todd Akin? Where is all the talk about “winning the country back” and “saving America”? Where is the focus on the big picture?While Akin may have seriously damaged his prospects for the Missouri Senate seat, the party establishment has pretty much blown it. It would have been difficult for Akin to win the seat as it were, the party’s decision to play the role of Brutus has made it all but impossible. I smell a pretty awful double-standard here and, I think this episode raises a lot of questions about just how devoted the party is to winning. The GOP could have played this a lot better, but they panicked. Absent a major change of heart by someone, the mutually reinforcing thoughtlessness of both Rep. Akin and the party pretty much guarantees Sen. McCaskill’s re-election.