At the rate prominent Republicans are turning on Todd Akin this week, you'd think he actually said something to offend them.
When Akin told an interviewer that rape victims don't need abortion rights because victims of "legitimate rape" don't get pregnant, he wasn't going rogue. Instead, he was simply repeating the GOP's official position on reproductive rights in a really, really tasteless way. If Akin's example is any guide, straying from right-wing orthodoxy in today's Republican party is less of a crime than simply calling attention to it.
It's true that Akin's bizarre belief that rape victims have ways to "shut that whole thing down" is common only among the fringe of the fringe Right. But the anti-abortion orthodoxy that is now part of the official Republican platform is a direct result of that sort of magical thinking. It helps, when denying reproductive choice to all women, to imagine it only benefits a certain type of abortion-craving bogey-woman who brought this on herself. Sometimes that requires some helpful mythology and weird science to smooth over the reality of women's lives.
It's the reality of real people that Republican leaders are desperately trying to avoid. As soon as Akin's comments hit the national news,prominent Republicans starting calling for him to step out of the Senate race in Missouri. Par for the course, once it became clear that that was the thing to do, Mitt Romney eventually joined the onslaught.
What's puzzling is that Romney and the others aren't criticizing the substance of Akin's remarks. They're just really angry that he's making them look bad.
It's strange, but you almost have to admire the right-wingers who are standing up for Akin. At least they're being honest about what their real position is. Akin's fellow unhinged congressman Steve King of Iowa backed up his friend's comments, saying he had never "heard of" someone getting pregnant through statutory rape or incest. Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh said Akin was "wrong" but that he couldn't understand why his fellow Republicans were in a "rush to pile on."
Here is what Romney and his fellow Republicans need to do if they want to actually convince Americans that they respect women: stop catering to the wishes of anti-choice extremists and start listening to women.
But I wouldn't hold my breath. Two days into this controversy the GOP platform committee approved the "Akin plank" codifying the no-exception policy that Republicans up for election were trying to sweep under the rug. Two weeks after the Akin plank is officially endorsed by the party, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, an unflinching supporter of the policy, will speak at the Values Voter Summit, an annual confab supported by some of the most extreme anti-choice groups out there. Two of those groups, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council, were among the first to defend Akin. AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer even went as far as to compare Akin himself to a victim of rape.
Romney and his party are trying to run from Akin while holding on to everything he stands for. It's a tough trick to pull off. So far, they aren't getting away with it.