Worst Political Gaffes: Rape Jokes to Slurs

Blogging the Beltway: Todd Akin is not the first to attempt political suicide by choking on his foot.

Todd Akin (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images);Trent Lott (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Todd Akin (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images);Trent Lott (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(The Root) — This week Republican Senate candidate and current Missouri Rep. Todd Akin made what many consider to be a career-ending comment. While defending his no-exceptions position on abortion, the congressman dismissed the issue of pregnancies caused by rape by saying, “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

I missed this little nugget of wisdom in sex-ed class, and apparently others, including many of Akin’s fellow Republicans, did as well. The backlash to Akin’s comments has been bipartisan and swift. He was considered virtually a shoo-in for election to the Senate, with Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democrats facing re-election.

Not anymore.

But Akin is not the first politician to commit political suicide by choking on his foot.

Below is a list of some of the most offensive political gaffes in the modern political era.

1. 1989: Councilman Jim Westmoreland uses a racial slur to joke about a deceased black congressman.

Houston Councilman Jim Westmoreland was a comfortable, 16-year incumbent when a news report included off-the-record comments he made about efforts to rename a Houston airport in honor of Rep. Mickey Leland. Leland, who was African American, died in a plane crash on a humanitarian trip to Ethiopia in 1989. According to reporter Andrew Kirtzman, Westmoreland said, “The idea now is to name the airport Nigger International. That way it would satisfy all the blacks.” Westmoreland claimed he actually said “Negro International.” Despite this attempted defense, he lost re-election to a black woman, Beverly Clark. 

2. 1990: Gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams jokes about rape. No one laughs.

Clayton Williams was a multimillionaire Texas energy mogul when he ran for governor of that state in 1990 against long-shot Democratic candidate Ann Richards, who was the state’s treasurer. Williams led by as much as 20 points before an off-the-record joke came back to bite his campaign in a big way. According to a reporter, Williams had this to say about rape: “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.” The remark mortally wounded Williams’ campaign. Richards would go on to become governor of Texas and a Democratic Party legend.