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SPOTLIGHT
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GOP can't get out of its own way

Published on -7/23/2014, 10:07 AM

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So, Todd Akin is back and he's talking rape again.

You remember what happened last time. The would-be Missouri senator torpedoed his campaign two years ago after suggesting in a TV interview if a woman is a victim of "legitimate rape," she is unlikely to get pregnant because her body "has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Those comments, he now wants you to know, were perfectly reasonable. In his new book, "Firing Back," Akin informs us some rapes are not "legitimate" because some women falsely accuse. And when he spoke about a woman's body shutting "that whole thing down," well, he was referring to the possibility rape-related "stress" would inhibit her ability to conceive.

As its title suggests, "Firing Back" is about settling scores. Among its targets: "Evil" Democrats, "biased" media and "spineless" Republicans who joined the chorus of condemnation his quote engendered, unwilling to stand up for an "unapologetic conservative."

For the record, the conservative in question was in fact quite apologetic when the "legitimate rape" controversy brought international opprobrium down upon him. He released a statement asking forgiveness and claiming he misspoke. I opined at the time that his real problem was not that he misspoke, but that "he spoke all too clearly."

Looks like he agrees. Because one of the major takeaways from this book is Akin's retraction of his apology. He shouldn't have done it, he says now. By apologizing, he validated "the willful misinterpretation" of his words.

Akin certainly has picked an interesting time to dredge this back up. In recent months, his party has embarked on an effort to rebrand itself. Its slogan might be (but isn't), "Try the new GOP, now with 25 percent less crazy!"

Of course, "crazy" (read: tea party) has been the GOP's sine qua non -- indeed, its energy source -- for years now. Call it the politics of pitchforks or just the politics of anger, an ideology defined less by ideas than by overweening resentment, simplistic solutions, rhetorical arson, and unrelenting opposition to any and every thing Barack Obama does, down to and including breathing. It made political stars out of the unlikely likes of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Christine O'Donnell, Herman Cain and Akin himself.

But that's so 2012. Having seen the hated president sail to re-election and sensing opportunity in the coming midterms, the grown-ups in the party busily are trying to disentangle themselves from the lover's embrace they not so long ago cherished.

"I don't care what they do," snapped House Speaker John Boehner about the tea party back in December.

A recent Huffington Post analysis found the GOP's establishment wing pouring money like Kool-Aid into primary races against tea party challengers.

"Can the GOP Be a Party of Ideas?" asks a recent New York Times magazine story. Let us hope it can. That would be a welcome thing.

But crazy will not be denied. Like a stalkerish ex who can't take "Get the hell away from me!" for an answer, crazy keeps popping up at the most inopportune places and times. Here's the party trying to recast itself in a more serious vein, trying to prove it is not divorced from reality. And there's Sarah Palin talking impeachment. There's Chris McDaniel talking election fraud. There's Dick Cheney, talking.

And there's Todd Akin retracting an insincere apology for one of the more profoundly stupid and offensive comments in recent political memory.

The GOP can't seem to get out of its own way. It's enough to make you feel empathy for the grown-ups -- all four of them -- in the party as they try without success to end this toxic relationship. Apparently, Neil Sedaka was right.

Breaking up is hard to do.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com

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