Rape: The very word is taboo, capable of killing most conversations faster than any other four-letter word in the American vernacular. The group of Republicans who had put their feet in their mouths on rape, which became known as the "rape caucus" (Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin and Richard "God Intended Your Rape-Baby" Mourdock are the best examples, but there were many), were embraced by many Republicans right up until they were crushed.
The "Rape Caucus" was on top of Mitt Romney giving the commencement speech at the famously anti-gay Liberty University and embracing harsh rhetoric like pushing S.B. 1070 and "self-deportation" as answers to undocumented immigration. Afterward, immigrants, gays and women formed important parts of Obama's coalition to hand him the victory. Republicans at the national level have since backed off these demographics rhetorically; however, they are still fighting all these groups in their opposition to new protections in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
More specifically, Republicans are fighting against the typically uncontroversial renewal of VAWA. The reasons they cite for this opposition are the new protections that have been added: additional visas for undocumented women who have been victims of sexual or domestic violence; protections against discrimination against the LGBTQ community in enforcement of the law; and provisions to allow Native Americans more leeway in their incredibly complicated, limited-sovereignty situation on reservations, where rape is a dramatically prevalent problem and rapists often go unpunished by law.
It's not much of a secret that undocumented immigrants are often afraid of authorities; even in states where S.B. 1070 and similar laws are not in effect, deportation is still a real concern. The stories of undocumented victims of sexual violence being afraid to go to the police, or even young documented women who are afraid that any involvement with the police will lead to the deportation of their families, are many. When Massachusetts State Rep. Ryan Fattman (R-Worcester) was asked what to do about this situation, he responded, "My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward."
Fattman is a Republican. This is the same GOP that is home to U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who led a Tea Party protest against a fundraiser for a women's shelter because it serves the Muslim community. Fattman and Royce, along with the "Rape Caucus," display a common attitude that continues to dominate the GOP policies: bowing down to the same sort of extreme xenophobes who show up at a women's shelter to scream in protest of the admittance of people they consider foreigners. This is the same irrational Tea Party element that drove Romney to such extreme positions in the primary that he was never able to pivot to the center effectively enough to win more moderate votes, and leads one to wonder if any Republicans will get into heaven.
"They want us to work with them, and yet they'll turn right around, and change a program that's working very very well, just for political reasons," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), dismissing the additional protections. "That's just ridiculous."
"I like the idea," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). "There is too much violence against women and children in this country, a lot of it unanswered." Yet he voted against the bill, along with other Republicans who have a difficult time explaining why.
Currently the Senate version of the bill is the one that contains the added protections, while the House version, more heavily influenced by Republicans, does not. All of this gives a clear message to Latino voters -- "We won't use the full force of the law to protect mixed-status families who are afraid to go to the police" -- as well as to women and gays: "Depending on your immigration status/sexuality, we may not offer much protection." This is not the way to silently bury the "war on women" that ruled the media for a few weeks during the election season, nor the friction that Republicans have with the Latino and gay communities.
As women listen to their leaders speaking, they will weigh the rhetoric on the right against quotations like this from Vice President Biden:
The House has passed a version of the Violence Against Women Act that will roll back critical provisions to help victims of abuse. I urge Congress to come together to pass a bipartisan measure that protects all victims. VAWA has been improved each time it's been reauthorized, and this time should be no different.
Conservative politics are still in disarray from the election, and fixtures are dropping left and right: The fake-grassroots Freedom Works just paid $8 million to get rid of Dick Army, Karl Rove's reputation has not yet recovered (and I say it never will) from his live meltdown on Fox News, and the entire Republican Party is clueless on what policy positions to take.
For a while now, Republicans have shown startling consistent solidarity against rape victims; it's hard to see how they'll turn these rape lemons into rape-aid in time for midterm elections, because this is a dirty mess that can be particularly hard to clean of if you get sucked into any part of it.