Rape, Republicans, and Romney. Again.

    So here’s a question for the women out there: Which of these Republican formulations is worse?

    Option A: Women have magical biological powers. They can recognize a rapist’s sperm and thus prevent themselves from getting pregnant in the aftermath of a “legitimate” rape.

    Option B: Women do not have magical biological powers. And if they get pregnant in the aftermath of a sexual assault, they must bear the rapist’s child because it’s “God’s will.”

    Gee, neither seems very enlightened. But so it goes, in the zealot wing of the GOP.

    The first option, of course, was voiced this summer by Todd Akin, the Republican senatorial candidate in Missouri. The second option was voiced this week by Richard Mourdock, the Republican senatorial candidate in Indiana. They’re the Sharron Angle/Christine O’Donnell characters in this election cycle – denizens of the right-wing fringe who won their respective GOP primaries (thanks to the support of conservative purists), and who, by dint of their ideology, have now imperiled their party’s prospects of winning those races.

    Worse yet, Mourdock has re-soiled the Republican brand at precisely the moment when Mitt Romney is trying to connect with female swing voters. He has been busy Etch a Sketching what he recently called his “severely conservative” views, and instead trying to talk like a moderate (the usual Romney chameleon act) in order to cut into President Obama’s lead among those women voters. The last thing he needed was an extremist cri de coeur from one of the key players on the Republican under-ticket.

    And now here he is, boxed in. Romney can’t renounce his support for Murdock, or demand that Murdock take down his new TV ad featuring Romney’s endorsement, because by doing so he would alienate the conservative base that loves Murdock. But Romney’s decision yesterday to keep Murdock in the fold (while carefully distancing himself from Murdock’s rape remark) is politically risky, because now women voters are reminded, yet again, that the GOP is heavily populated with right-wing men who pontificate about women’s health, and who want to make decisions that affect women’s health. And that Romney as president would be working with that crowd.

    It’s bad enough what Mourdock said during a debate the other night, when asked whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest; in response he said, “I struggled with myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something God intended to happen.”

    It was even worse yesterday, when Mourdock insisted that critics have “twisted” what he said. (An impossible task, because what he said was quite clear.) In a press conference attempt at damage control, Mourdock explained yesterday: “I said life is precious. I believe life is precious. I believe rape is a brutal act. It is something that I abhor. That anyone could come away with any meaning other than what I just said is regrettable, and for that I apologize.” (Notice that he never addressed the core issue, about how women impregnated by rapists should bear the children, in a bow to God’s will.)

    Does the GOP have a problem with Mourdock’s faith-based misogynist decree? Not at all. Yesterday, the party backed him to the hilt. John Cornyn, who runs the National Republican senatorial committee, said that Mourdock’s debate remark was merely a “restatement” of his general belief that life is a gift from God, and that the Democratic candidate in Indiana, Joe Donnelly, believes the same thing. (Donnelly said repeatedly yesterday that he doesn’t view rape-induced pregnancies as a gift from God or God’s will.)

    Bottom line: What a gift for the Obama team, which is working overtime during the final sprint to woo undecided women by tying Romney to the party that wants to take women’s health issues back to the 1950s. Mourdock now joins Akin as a reactionary poster boy. It’s not likely, of course, that this week’s episode will move women’s votes en masse, but in a tight presidential race, any small shift in sentiment can make a big difference in key swing states.

    Romney’s foes hope so, anyway. As one male jokester warned on Twitter the other day, “If women end up helping to elect Romney, THE TOILET SEAT IS NEVER GOING DOWN AGAIN.” 

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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