It’s been nine days since Todd Akin broke the GOP’s lock on picking up a Senate seat in Missouri by uttering the words “legitimate rape,” and he’s only now come to terms with an unenviable reality: He can’t turn the page on the episode without behaving like an insurgent, and he can’t behave like an insurgent without calling out his own party — the very people to whom he may have to turn for campaign cash if the race tightens in the weeks ahead.
After ignoring a full week of public calls from the leaders of his own party to step aside, Akin finally chastised them directly Tuesday.
“Reince Priebus’ comments are extremely dissappointing [sic],” said his son and campaign manager Perry Akin, in an official statement. “He claims the mantle of freedom, liberty and the good of America, but this betrays his apparent personal vendetta against Todd Akin. He is putting party power and political games ahead of the good of the country.”
Priebus, as chairman of the RNC, is a carefully selected adversary. Yes, he recently vowed that the RNC won’t send Akin “a penny” even if he ties the race. But he wields less clout in 2012 than outside groups, the NRSC, or Akin’s would-be Senate colleagues, many of whom have also pleaded with him to get out of the race. And he bided his time until the GOP convention kicked off in earnest on Tuesday.
Akin enters combat with his fellow Republicans reluctantly.
Last Monday, when top Republicans, including Mitt Romney, first began condemning his remarks — about the same time vulnerable GOP incumbents started calling for his head — Akin’s first instinct was to apologize; not for the intent behind his remarks, but for unintentionally using the term “legitimate rape,” as if certain rapes might be acceptable or praise worthy.
But though he insisted he was staying in the race, with 24 hours before a key drop-out deadline, he left himself plenty of room to reconsider.
That’s when the dam broke. The GOP infrastructure abandoned him, threatening to zero out national Republican spending on campaign ads in Missouri.
Akin didn’t budge. By the time the Tuesday deadline passed, he’d announced his intent to stay in the race for good (an earned media trick he’d pull one more time by the end of the week).
But in a bid to rouse his base — or perhaps because he was stuck in denial — Akin pretended he couldn’t hear his own party’s caterwauling. He downplayed the extent to which they’d reached out to him directly, and instead blamed the “liberal elitist media” for trying to push him aside.
He even, bizarrely, pressed his opponent, Claire McCaskill to drop out of the race instead of him.
By the end of last week, Akin collapsed in the polls. NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh told TPM, “Senator McCaskill is seeing the same poll numbers as the rest of us and she knows that the only way she is re-elected is if Todd Akin stays in this race.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Akin, even if victorious, would not be a welcome presence in the GOP conference.
Only then did it dawn on Akin that he had nothing to lose by admitting that his true persecutors were Republican Party leaders.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.