Republicans are letting on their fears that the race to replace Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss could end in disaster for them. The cast of GOP primary characters, which The Hill has ruled a “clown car,” features the likes of Rep. Phil Gingrey—briefly infamous for saying Rep. Todd Akin was “partially right” about rape and pregnancy—and Rep. Paul Broun—who seems to utter “a gaffe every other day,” in the words of Georgia political operative Joel McElhannon. My colleague Nate Cohn has called the general election, where Democrats will likely run Michelle Nunn, Democrats’ best shot for picking up a Senate seat in 2014.
Today, Manu Raju of Politico reports that in a bid to avoid “Todd Akin 2.0,” Republicans are considering substantial primary ad buys against Broun. Establishmentarians are right to focus their fears on him: The first legislation he introduced to Congress was a personhood bill defining life as beginning at conception, he’s a goldbug, and he voted for Allen West as speaker this Congress, even though West was no longer a member. And his over-the-top rhetoric makes fertile territory for the next “legitimate rape.” See his contribution to the debate over the 2009 stimulus bill:
“This non-stimulus bill is the road to socialism. It will give us a journey that includes bureaucratic controls, high taxes, government intervention, Cuba-style medicine, and economic collapse of America. This steamroller of socialism is being shoved down our throats, and it will strangle our economy. This porkulous bill has a few decent provisions in it, but it's mostly filled with mystery meat. Rancid meat.”
Next to Broun, Gingrey is actually holding himself out as the more measured, cooperative alternative.
Of course, fears of “the next Todd Akin” have preoccupied the GOP at large ever since the Missouri senate candidate handed what looked like a surefire Republican win to Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill last summer. Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group supporting Republican women, went so far as to run rape sensitivity training sessions for GOP candidates earlier this year.
Their desperation is instructive for anyone fretting about Broun’s big mouth. Groups like SBA consider discussions of rape a trap pro-choicers set for conservatives—by bringing up circumstances that apply to a miniscule number of women seeking abortions. But while they are right about the numbers, it’s conservative lawmakers who are responsible for the proliferation of opportunities to put their feet in their mouths. Abortion-restricting legislation that refuses exceptions for victims of rape and incest appears to be on the rise even in the wake of Akin’s mortifying comments. The more conservatives back these bills, the more they are called upon to defend them, with disastrous results. Here’s Barbara Listing, the president of Right to Life Michigan, explaining earlier this year why insurance coverage for abortion should cost extra even in cases of rape: “It’s simply, like, nobody plans to have an accident in a car accident, nobody plans to have their homes flooded. You have to buy extra insurance for those.”
That being the case, the strategy for avoiding more Akins should be obvious even to those of us who didn’t go to rape sensitivity school: If pro-lifers feel there is no winning when their legislators talk about rape and abortion, they might want to quit writing abortion restrictions for rape victims. Of course, abortion isn’t the only realm where there are potential tripwires for Broun. “Avoiding the next Todd Akin” is also shorthand for avoiding a GOP primary winner who satisfies the base but is too conservative to win a general election. In Georgia, that candidate would have to be fairly conservative. Broun—who has said that the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution are ““lies straight from the pit of hell”; who won’t vote for legislation that “does not fit the Judeo-Christian biblical principles that our country was founded on”—might fit that bill. But the same lesson still applies: A party that makes a unified effort to gin up controversy when the Democratic National Convention platform doesn’t intone the word “god” is liable to attract religious extremists. A party that is unified in their skepticism of climate change is liable to attract members who take anti-intellectualism to even greater heights. These guys read their Bible; they know that you reap what you sow.
Molly Redden is a New Republic staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @mtredden.