Steffen Schmidt, IAFC Blogger
Steffen W. Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University, WNYC blogger, and chief Political correspondent of Insider Iowa.
The gender gap of roughly 10 percent between the Democrats and Republicans is a very big hurdle that the GOP must jump over. It has been there in one form or another for the past couple of decades. Now the gap may widen.
Missouri Republican Congressman Todd Aiken’s remark about rape is, I believe, another nail in the GOP deficit of women’s support coffin. In the event you've been on vacation for the past two days, here is his statement as he tried to explain pregnancies in women who have been raped and his opposition to abortions even in the case of rape.
“It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. [Pregnancy] But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
I called his office and asked for the name on one or two of those doctors of whom he spoke and got completely sandbagged.
We know that rape and abortion have been an obsession with Aiken. In 2011 he sponsored a bill that would have restricted Medicaid funding for abortions only in cases of “forcible rape.” I could never figure out what non-forced rape was. Would that be consensual rape?! Is that kind of like ‘legitimate murder” vs. “consensual” murder?
Here are the two insurmountable problems with the “Aiken Incident” which is how it will be known in history books.
First and foremost, it is gratingly offensive for any American who has daughters, wives, grandmothers, sisters, female cousins, or women friends. The notion that if they were raped they’d have to prove it was a ”legitimate rape” to get help in terminating a pregnancy is so offensive that only the most callous of right wing talk show hosts can abide by that notion. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown’s comment is representative.
Quoted on ABC News he said, “As a husband and father of two young women, I found Todd Akin’s comments about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate and wrong,” Brown said. “There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking. Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin’s statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri.”
Second, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate is a cosponsor of Aiken bill and also believes that there should be no abortions even in cases of rape. That’s why it’s so rare to have a Senator or Congressman become President. They have a huge paper trail of speeches and laws they have supported.
How in the world is Ryan going to separate himself from Aiken’s statement?
The collateral damage from this is huge and I would venture to say permanent. It’s “sticky” as they say. It will inform the Democratic Party pushback. It has “legs” as a moral and ethical discussion. Sometimes a situation comes along that even knocks the economy, ObamaCare, Medicare, and jobs off the political stage. I think this could be it – an August surprise?
A second and by far lesser damage is the fact that Aiken was expected to knock out Democratic Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and get the GOP one seat closer to controlling the upper chamber. That now seems endangered.
In a more general sense the Aiken incident raises larger questions about the GOP’s philosophy about women and women’s issues. I had lunch with several acquaintances who, I believe, are all politically “independents.” One of them said, “You expect this sort of thing in Saudi Arabia not the United States.” For the Republicans that’s not something you want undecided, independent voters to be thinking!