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Why conservatives should ignore Todd Akin and Rick Santorum
Few things have cost our party more dearly in recent years than the figurative war on women and literal preventive wars abroad
 
My fellow conservatives: Ignore this man.
My fellow conservatives: Ignore this man. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

There is no shortage of books advising Republicans on how to win more elections and perhaps reclaim the White House. But only two big-name authors seem to be selling blueprints for how the party can lose.

Of course, neither Rick Santorum nor Todd Akin actually wants Republicans to lose. Both men have won elections themselves. But if their recent media blitzes to promote their new books are at all representative of their advice to the GOP, it is help Republicans can do without.

Two years removed from blowing a surefire Senate pickup opportunity for Republicans in Missouri, Todd Akin is out with Firing Back: Taking on the Party Bosses and Media Elite to Protect Our Faith and Freedom.

But what Akin really wants to do is defend the "legitimate rape" comment that prevented Republicans from retiring Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

In the heat of the Senate campaign, the then-congressman responded to a question about abortion and rape by saying, "It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down."

Akin was promptly denounced by both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

At the time of this biology lesson, Akin held a lead in the polls of anywhere from one to 11 percentage points. Days later, McCaskill opened up a double-digit lead and only trailed in one more major poll for the remainder of the campaign. She ended up winning by nearly 16 points, as Akin failed to break 40 percent in a state Romney carried by more than nine points.

Surely Akin has learned from his mistakes, right? Not exactly. Instead, the would-be senator is doubling down.

"Legitimate rape is a law enforcement term and it's abbreviation for legitimate case of rape," Akin explained in the kind of interview that makes your PR rep cringe. "If I had been choosing my words better, I should have said legitimate case of rape. And I have acknowledged that it is a poor choice of words."

Let's run that infamous Akin quote again, with his new, legally precise wording: "If it's a legitimate case of rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down." Nope, still a disaster.

Akin went on to deny the obvious implications of his statement."I never said that a woman can't get pregnant who is raped," he said. "I was simply talking about the fact that stress affects the statistics of people becoming pregnant."

He added that a "number of people" on his campaign had been "conceived by rape," which would seem to contradict his point.

Now, Akin isn't wrong that there is a bit of a double standard. Wendy Davis' position on abortion isn't in line with the polls either, yet she is embraced by her party and celebrated in the media. But Akin's messaging seems almost designed to send women into the arms of Planned Parenthood rather than the National Right to Life Committee.

Now, Rick Santorum is no Todd Akin. His Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works makes a much more serious point: Republicans need an economic agenda that helps working-class Americans as much as hedge fund managers. That is actually a prescription that would help the GOP.

But in an interview with the Washington Examiner, Santorum defended the Export-Import Bank — a bit of corporate welfare popularly known as "Boeing's Bank" — in the same breath as he criticized bailouts.

Santorum also bizarrely claimed that Obama — who launched a war without congressional approval and ordered a surge in Afghanistan — was following the foreign policy of Ron and Rand Paul. Implication: Republicans need to intervene more abroad.

The former Pennsylvania senator opposes over-the-counter birth control, disagreeing with fellow anti-abortion Catholic Bobby Jindal about this free-market proposal to expand contraceptive access without coercive mandates on religious people.

I'm not knocking Santorum's social conservatism or his tiptoeing in the direction of a more populist economic message. Both should be part of the Republican playbook.

But few things have cost Republicans more dearly in recent years than the figurative war on women and literal preventive wars abroad. One is substantially bogus, but given credence by dumb GOP rhetoric. The other is a design flaw in a lot of Republican foreign-policy thinking.

Neither problem is fixed by Santorum or Akin.

 
W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?

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