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The GOP’s 'Key Largo' Convention | The Nation

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Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

The GOP’s 'Key Largo' Convention

Mitt Romney and the Republicans are headed down to Tampa next week for what they hoped would be a warm, intimate, dark-wood-framed convention that would reintroduce the scion of Bain Capital as the caring savior of corporate America, wounded as it is by stimulus funding and socialism. It was designed to give us all that feeling of being wrapped in rich, Corinthian leather, but that’s not how it’s working out—it’s more like a Key Largo convention.

Key Largo, of course, is the old Bogart/Bacall movie about a random assortment of people trapped in a Florida hotel with a bullying, misogynistic gangster (played menacingly by Edward G. Robinson) as a hurricane bears down upon them. As their claustrophobic isolation drags on, the gangster reveals himself to be such a cowardly tyrant that his own thugs don’t want him back in charge.

And that’s kind of where the GOP finds itself this weekend, threatened by the biblically named Hurricane Isaac and the biblically informed Missouri senate candidate Todd Akin. Instead of smothering doubts in comfy luxury, the GOP convention—upholstered with the text of 1 Corinthians 14:34 (“Women should be silent in church…”)—is set to reopen old fissures between the religious right and the establishment right. It’s “the regular people” against “the big party people,” Akin says, and the intraparty squabble could be nasty enough to make Key Largo look like a rom-com.

The party is already tearing at its own innards. After Romney told him to pull out of the race, Akin told Romney to get lost: “Why couldn’t he run his race and I run mine?” Mike Huckabee, the de facto leader of the religious right, sent an e-mail to followers, saying, “In a Party that supposedly stands for life, it was tragic to see the carefully orchestrated and systematic attack on a fellow Republican…. [Akin] made his mistake, but was man enough to admit it and apologize. I’m waiting for the apology from whoever the genius was on the high pedestals of our party who thought it wise to not only shoot our wounded, but run over him with tanks and trucks and then feed his body to the liberal wolves.”

Sarah Palin called for a third-party candidate, namely her endorsee Sarah Steelman (who came in third in the Missouri primary). That would be a sure way to hand victory to Claire McCaskill, but Palin doesn’t care. Getting creamed in ’08 wasn’t her fault, either—she was stabbed in the back by the same pros who denied her a speaking slot in Tampa and are now trying to bury Akin. Meanwhile, the true believers heading up the GOP platform are left trying to claim that their absolutist abortion ban (no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother) has some secret flexibility. Sure it does.

Will Akin supporters, who also include Joe (“Deadbeat Dad”) Walsh, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and thousands of Missourians, turn against Mitt Romney, whom they never trusted anyway? Will some even bail on Paul Ryan for telling Akin to quit and signing on to Romney’s (latest) stance on abortion, which does make exceptions in cases of rape and incest?

Ryan is now trying to deny that he ever pushed for legislation that would limit federal funding for abortions only to victims of “forcible rape.” In fact, he and Akin were two of the bill’s original co-sponsors. But when asked about it, Ryan cowered, echoing the “rape is rape” language of the devil himself, President Obama. Here’s Ryan shutting the whole “forcible rape” thing down in an interview with KDKA, a CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh:

RYAN: Rape is rape, period, end of story.

KDKA: So that forcible rape language meant nothing to you at the time?

RYAN: Rape is rape, and there’s no splitting hairs over rape.

The Republican Party is so infested with Akin-Ryan policies and Romney-Ryan lies about them that their claustrophobic siege next week—assuming it’s not canceled or moved because of the storm—is bound to feel as tense and seething as the following scene. Just think of Edward G. Robinson as the Republican Party, Lauren Bacall as the American woman and the old man as a Medicare beneficiary.

And who’s Humphrey Bogart in this overextended metaphor? Well, he’s the guy who understands that the party can’t afford to wipe out Todd Akin, because it’s all or nothing, see; the GOP simply can’t survive without its anti-abortion radicals. So it’ll be nothing.

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