Rep. Todd Akin is a man with infinite leverage over the Republican Party.
When the deadline passed last Tuesday for Todd Akin to voluntarily remove himself from the ballot, speculation continued apace about who might replace him on the ballot as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Missouri against Senator Claire McCaskill. Of course, this presumes he can still be persuaded to seek permission from a court to withdraw between now and September 25, the final deadline for him to take such an action.
Immediately, a host of Missouri Republicans kicked off "vanity campaigns" to ensure that their names were among those included in stories speculating about who the replacements for Akin might be should he step aside.
And news outlets went through the exercise of trying to explain how the Missouri Republican State Committee is constituted and what its process might be for choosing a replacement for Akin.
But here's the reality: None of that matters.
If the day comes where a replacement for Todd Akin is chosen both the decision to step aside and the choice of the name of the replacement candidate would rest almost entirely in the hands of one man: Todd Akin.
Akin can't be forced from the ballot; he has to go voluntarily. And in the last week, since his comments about "legitimate rape" started to dominate the political discussion, Todd Akin has demonstrated that he's virtually impervious to the traditional political pressure points.
The notion that he would ever step aside simply so the Republican Party can choose their favored candidate to replace him is fantasy.
Instead, he would have to be convinced that his leaving served a purpose higher than party.
Presumably, his political prospects could become so dim he might consider stepping aside, but he is unlikely to defer judgment about his political viability to national politicos given that none of them have either expected or wanted him to win any race prior to this one. He's won without their confidence and cash before and no doubt believes he can do so again. The national GOP's sense of desperation and Akin's are not the same.
As they've already shown, the Karl Roves of the world assume that Akin believes in the same laws of political physics that they do: Money is everything; principles are nothing. That's a failure to understand Akin.
Akin is a true believer. He believes in his heart that his candidacy is a grand opportunity for the elements of his party that he's always been the closest to, those elements who have often been marginalized by the powers that be within his own party, to finally have their moment on the big stage. Why would he voluntarily submit to his champions and causes being marginalized again, especially given that he holds all the cards? He wouldn't.
If he ever decided to put his campaign aside, it wouldn't simply be for the cause of his party. It would be for the true cause of his life: the anti-abortion movement.
For Akin to even consider stepping aside, he'd almost certainly have to have a 100 percent certain deal in place for a candidate -- a candidate that he was convinced would carry on the cause. He'd almost certainly negotiate a lock-solid commitment that the replacement candidate of his choosing would be selected by the Missouri GOP Committee. And violating such a deal would be very risky for the MO GOP.
Under this scenario, all those politicians who are bashing Akin and floating their names in the press are the least likely candidates to replace him should Akin conclude that time has come. Akin would almost certainly insist on a candidate with a lifelong commitment to the anti-abortion wars.
In Akin's mind, there would be no reason to set aside the victory by his wing of the party in the August Primary simply to choose a generic Republican. Stepping aside is one thing, abandoning the cause of his life is another thing entirely.
It's far more likely Akin would insist on a candidate who might be a virtual unknown to voters but with an out-sized presence in the movement he's been committed to his whole career. It is simply unimaginable that he would even consider a deal that didn't center on a candidate who passed an Akin Ideological Litmus Test with 100 percent flying colors.
Such a candidate would obviously present further dangers to the GOP establishment. But they have little in the way of true options. They can go with Akin's choice, or stick with Akin. In that case, the GOP elite would learn, as Solomon, Abraham and Hobson all knew, some choices are no choice at all.
Once any such deal were undertaken, any temptation to betray it would bring grave peril for the entire Republican ticket.
Here's why: Almost certainly due in part to sectarian suspicions, Missouri's Christian conservatives were already leery of Romney before he piled on Akin. Romney has almost certainly worsened their fears with his handling of Akin.
In Missouri's February GOP presidential primary beauty contest, where 250,000 of Missouri's hardest core Republicans showed up, 188,000 of them voted against Romney. And Akin received 217,000 votes in the primary in August, with a base made up principally of Christian conservative voters.
If Akin leaves the ticket, he must do so cheerfully and with complete enthusiasm or his base may abandon the entire ticket. That's a serious danger to Missouri Republicans and Romney.
Why? Because the votes of 200,000 Christian conservatives are critical to them in a state like Missouri.
In 2004, Senator John Kerry, who stopped competing in Missouri, lost the state by 196,000 votes. Missouri Republicans simply can't afford for Akin's supporters to stay home because they are disappointed or demoralized.
So, as the true "options" before the GOP elite begin to sink in, as the true extent of Akin's leverage becomes clear to them, they may very well end up concluding that sticking with Akin is their least worst option.