Is Donald Trump the new Todd Akin?
Some pundits are drawing that comparison after the GOP presidential front-runner ran into a buzzsaw Wednesday over abortion. And Democrats may try to make the comparision more explicit soon.
In an interview on MSNBC, Trump told questioner Chris Matthews that women who sought abortions might have to face criminal penalties for the act. “There has to be some form of punishment,” he said. Matthews asked if he meant for the woman. “Yeah, there has to be some form,” Trump replied.
After an outcry from both sides of the abortion debate, Trump’s campaign walked the statement back.
“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman,” the last statement said. “The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb.”
The dust-up was the latest example of Trump’s propensity to stumble into verbal traps. In a debate, he seemed to indicate a lack of understanding of the nation’s nuclear triad. He’s wobbled rhetorically on NATO funding. He’s stumbled on single-payer health care, and the Affordable Care Act.
In this, he eerily resembles Akin, the Missouri congressman who ran for the Senate against Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2012. Akin had political experience Trump lacks, but like Trump, Akin often said thing he later regretted, or had to clarify.
He called for an end to the school lunch program, for example — at the Missouri State Fair. He said liberals hate God, then clarified the remark. And, of course, most famously, he walked into a firestorm after claiming pregnancy wasn’t possible after a “legitimate rape.”
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said, explaining why he opposed abortion even for rape victims.
Akin made the statement after he won the Missouri Republican Senate nomination in the state. Like Trump, Akin won that nomination with less than a majority of the state’s GOP voters — he won 36 percent of the primary vote, compared with 30 percent for John Brunner and 29 percent for Sarah Steelman.
And, just as in Trump’s case, some members of the Republican establishment tried to stop Akin’s campaign. Former senators urged Akin to withdraw, as did Republicans across the country. Outside money planned for the fall race against McCaskill failed to materialize.
Akin remained the general election, and he lost badly to McCaskill.
There are differences between Trump and Akin. One is money — Trump has it, and Akin didn’t.
And Akin’s statements and alleged gaffes seemed always to reflect sincere belief — the Republican truly didn’t think the government should be in the business of providing lunches to schoolkids, for example. Trump, on the other hand, seems more likely to stumble because of inattention, or a lack of knowledge about the subject matter, not because of the inherent contradictions in his positions.
One Democrat argued Trump has made Republicans so mad because he’s never internalized the rhetoric they’ve learned to avoid verbal traps. Most candidates learn how to slide around such questions, which they get all the time.
So it isn’t clear if Trump will face the same fate as Akin if the New Yorker is the party’s presidential nominee. But the comparisons are likely to continue.