Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wanted to run a campaign that was primarily about the economy and finance. Incumbent Barack Obama looked vulnerable in these fields. But now everything has turned out quite differently. The ie of abortion is at the center of America's political debate.
Triggered by a linguistic blunder
And it doesn't currently look like the party will succeed in changing its agenda by the start of its electoral convention Monday in Tampa. This political earthquake was triggered by Congressman Todd Akin. He is campaigning in his home state of Missouri as the candidate of the conservative "Tea Party" against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is weakening in polls, for her Senate seat. In an interview, Akin had included rape victims in his strict rejection of any kind of abortion – and made a linguistic error when he spoke of "legitimate rape.
Akin had not come up with the term "forced rape," meaning an actual violent rape, introduced by him, Ryan and other Republicans in a bill. This relativization points to a basic principle in the language used by abortion opponents. In addition to this particularly brutal form, they believe there are supposedly milder variants: for example, when a woman has drunk alcohol before intercourse and does not offer too much resistance. She is then, according to the initiators, not entitled to abortion.
Akin's medico-physiologically bizarre assertion that there are not all that many pregnancies as a result of rape, because "the female body has ways of shutting the whole thing down," caused far more excitement. Akin is a member of the Congressional Committee on Science.
Rejection of abortion is a republican self-image
Party higher-ups, including Romney, have so far unsuccessfully urged Akin to forgo his Senate bid. They fear not only losing the race in Missouri, which they already thought was safe, but also alienating voters in the middle. For what is now being widely discussed in all the media is that Akin may have acted in a verbally clumsy manner, but in terms of content he is fully on party lines. Still on Monday, the planning commission of the party congress adopted a "platform" that strictly rejects any abortion – even after rape, incest and in case of danger to the life of the mother. The majority of statements by Catholic U.S. bishops on the ie are also on the Republican wavelength.
Romney, during his time as governor of Massachusetts, upheld federal legislation from the 1970s that allows abortions for certain indications. In the election campaign so far, he tried to keep the ie of abortion under wraps. This is now over. The social conservatives in the party suddenly have the ie sovereignty over the economic conservatives who have set the tone so far. Rejection of abortion without exception has long been part of the Republican self-image, also propagated by Sarah Palin and Romney's rival Rick Santorum. Only 2008 presidential candidate John McCain wanted to recognize borderline cases.
In the U.S. population, according to a poll, the ban on abortions, even for rape victims, is not supported by 75 percent of respondents. "No party," said Darrell West, deputy director of the Brookings Institution, a Washington "think tank," "wants to be defined by its most radical elements. This is exactly what is happening to the Republicans now." There is a danger, he said, that voters will not see Akin as a maverick at all.