The 'stupid party': Is GOP's concern what's said or how it's said?
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and former party chief Haley Barbour disparage anew 'stupid' comments about rape and abortion by a few GOP candidates. It's hard to tell if the concern is mainly about style or substance.
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Jindal and Barbour are only the latest voices within the GOP to warn against alienating whole segments of voters. But hearing the warning is one thing, and heeding it appears to be quite another. Recently, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R) of Georgia revived the controversy by defending Mr. Akin's comments at a local chamber of commerce breakfast in Georgia: "A scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents ... might on some occasion say, ‘Hey, I was raped.’ That’s what [Akin] meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape. I don’t find anything so horrible about that."Skip to next paragraph
Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.
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All this has been damaging to the Republican Party brand, but the "stupid" charge in particular also raises some pointed questions. Are Republicans such as Jindal and Barbour saying they want the party to moderate its official position on social issues like abortion? Or are they saying they don't want candidates to talk in such explicit terms about what they actually believe, even if it largely comports with party policy?
On abortion, neither Akin, nor Representative Gingrey, nor the 2012 Republican Party Platform makes any exceptions for rape. "We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed," the GOP platform states. "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."
And this week in New Mexico, a Republican state lawmaker proposed a bill that would make it a felony – punishable by three years in prison – to get an abortion in cases of rape, by saying that terminating the pregnancy would be akin to "tampering with evidence."
That's out of step with most Americans on the issue. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out this week found that a majority of Americans now believe abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, and as many as 70 percent believe that Roe v. Wade – which guarantees a constitutional right to an abortion in the first trimester – should not be overturned.
If Republicans want to win back moderate women and other voters who don't believe abortion should be criminalized – especially not in cases of rape and incest – then they will need to dispense with talk that many of their own describe as "stupid." But the more intriguing question is whether, to attract more voters, the party will rethink some of its policy positions.
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