Fringe beliefs

Saying crazy things can cost you an election. Just ask Todd Akin

November 8, 2012 

The only depressing part about Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s loss to Claire McCaskill Tuesday night were the tepid emotions expressed in the exit polls. When asked about Akin’s infamous pontification about “legitimate rape” and the female body’s magical ability to shut down pregnancies, Missouri voters reported that “at the very least, they gave the comment some consideration in the voting booth.” Some consideration. It’s hard to imagine what would have merited serious, weighty consideration for those voters. A scientific theory about legitimate murder? A UFO sighting? (Actually there was a second depressing thing. Akin seems to have either tied or won the white-woman vote, according to CNN. That is not a misprint, and we can’t really explain how or why that happened. Chalk it up to the meth labs.)

Nonetheless the voters of Missouri did the right thing, and re-elected McCaskill, and for that we are grateful. Younger, pro-choice, and African-American women came out more strongly to vote for McCaskill than they did in 2006, and gave her a solid lead. The bonus here is that if things stay on track, we are on the way to having a record number of women in the U.S. Senate.

The lasting legacy of Akin and Indiana Republican Rick Mourdock, who also lost his race, is that together they seem to have outlined in bright pink where the crazy line is. It is clear now that you cannot say certain wacko things that you read about in a church bulletin or overheard a “professor” lecture on in in a Bible study group and expect the support of either your own party or the voters of your state. You can particularly not do these things in mansplaining mode because women, who make up the majority of voters in many states, will make you pay.

The downside of course is now the fringe has gotten a loud reminder that they must not air their fringe in public anymore, that they must keep those church bulletins tucked safely in the inner pocket of their khakis if they want to be elected, that they must, in order to survive, do the thing they hate the most: evolve.

Rosin is the author of “The End of Men” and a senior editor at the Atlantic.

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