Update: Due to Tropical Storm Isaac, the RNC has cancelled Monday's events. According to the updated schedule, Huckabee will speak on Wednesday in primetime.
It was inevitable that the backlash to Representative Todd Akin’s (R-MO) shocking assertion that in instances of “legitimate rape” a woman cannot get pregnant would generate its own counter-reaction on the right. Akin has a long been a vocal proponent of Christianist conservatism, and it has earned him some loyalty on the religious right.
As the Washington Post reports:
Akin has tried mightily to increase the role of religion in government. He proposed creating a National Year of the Bible in 2008 and an official day of fasting and prayer in 2003 to gird the nation for war in Iraq. Four times, the Missouri Republican wrote bills to keep judges from striking “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.
None of them became law….
But if Akin has carved out only a small legacy on the Hill, he has made loyal allies among conservative legislators and Christian groups.
So while the entire Republican establishment begs Akin to drop out of the Missouri Senate race, a small but growing number of social conservatives are complaining about how the GOP is treating him.
It began on Wednesday with the obscure religious-right group American Vision. Their director of research, Joel McDurmon, wrote a caustic blog post titled “Legitimate Political Gang Rape,” complaining that Akin was the victim of a double standard:
We expect leftists, liberals, and other miscreants to pounce opportunistically, to lie, cheat, and twist (all the while drooling) over a phrase like “legitimate rape” when uttered by a strong conservative Christian politician. But should we expect the same from alleged conservatives?
Yet this is exactly what we’ve seen from several prominent conservatives in the wake of a media gaffe from U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin (R-MO) in regard to alleged “legitimate rape” and abortion.
And in this case, the volley of verbal bullets came with disproportionate verve. It’s almost like the GOP establishment is more than eager to get rid of the most conservative tea-party types among them.
Bryan Fischer, who works for the American Family Association and hosts a radio show on its network, also compared Akin’s treatment to that of a rape victim. “You talk about a forcible situation,” he said, “you talk about somebody being a victim of kind of forcible assault, that would be Todd Akin.”
Although Fischer has some genuine influence on the right—he takes credit for getting Romney’s foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell fired for being pro–gay marriage—he is known for being unusually strident. But now a more mainstream Christian conservative has stepped up to defend Akin, and he happens to be giving a major speech at the Republican National Convention.
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who hosts a syndicated radio show and a Fox News program, issued a blistering statement attacking the GOP leadership Thursday. (Huckabee had Akin on his radio show both Monday and Tuesday, giving Akin the opportunity to explain and apologize.) In an email to supporters, Huckabee wrote:
The Party’s leaders have for reasons that aren't rational, left [Akin] behind on the political battlefield, wounded and bleeding…. From the spotlights of political offices and media perches, it may appear that the demand for Akin’s head is universal in the party. I assure you it is not…. He 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. It wasn't just Todd Akin that was treated with contempt by the thinly veiled attack on Todd Akin. It was all the people who have faithfully knocked doors, made calls, and made sacrificial contributions to elect Republicans because we thought we were welcome in the party….
I’ve always believed and still do, that if you don’t honor your friendships, you don’t honor yourself. And I consider Todd a friend. So I will join Todd as often as I can, in his fight for our Party’s pro-life policies, traditional marriage and our efforts to rein in the massive expansion of government under President Obama…. The party has decided it won't help. In fact, it has decided that it will try to cut off the supply lines to Akin to pressure him to exit and let the party bosses overturn the voters of Missouri and pick their own candidate. If this can happen to Todd Akin, who is next?
Such strong language is uncharacteristic for Huckabee. Clearly, Huckabee—who endorsed Akin in the primary—sees this as more than just a strategic calculation on the part of the Romney/Ryan campaign, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and others who have urged Akin to drop out. Rather, he sees it as a proxy for the fight between the establishment-money wing of the party and the grassroots, Christian wing of the party.
When I interviewed Huckabee for my recent feature profile of him, he talked about the feeling among social conservatives that Republicans use them to win elections but do not actually care about their issues. “Conservatives have been burned way too many times,” said Huckabee. “Social conservatives get used every four years, trotted out at the rallies to stand there for five hours, scream and yell for that candidate, knock on doors, make the phone calls, carry signs. When the election is over, they’re promptly forgotten, put up in the attic and asked not to come out in public again for another four years. I think a lot of people have grown tired of that, so hopefully that’s not going to be the case this year.”
If social conservatives see dumping Akin as another instance of being taken for granted, the GOP establishment may decide to back off. They need to keep their base happy. That’s why they tapped Huckabee to speak Monday night at 7 pm: he is friendly enough to present to the mainstream audience at home but will enthuse the delegates in the convention hall.
But if they do not get rid of Akin they risk alienating moderates and women. Democrats are banking on just such a possibility, and they are making sure their convention has plenty of women speakers. And so the truly frightening possibility for Republicans is if Huckabee actually addresses the Akin controversy in his remarks Monday. Huckabee comes across as easy-going and unlikely to make such a move, but clearly the issue has touched a nerve for him. So we’ll just have to wait and watch to find out.