How a Pro-Life Group Will Teach Candidates to Stop Making Rape Gaffes

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 14 2013 2:46 PM

How a Pro-Life Group Will Teach Candidates to Stop Making Rape Gaffes

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KIRKWOOD, MO - SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) and Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (not pictured) address the media on September 24, 2012 in Kirkwood, Missouri. Gingrich was in the St. Louis area to attend a fundraiser for Akin's U.S. Senate campaign against incumbent Claire McCaskill. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Jennifer Haberkorn's story on Republicans' seeming inability to stop gaffeing about rape included this scooplet:

[I]t may have added new urgency to a training program that’s already being launched by an anti-abortion group — the Susan B. Anthony list — to keep candidates and lawmakers from continually making the same kind of comments that may have helped ruin Republicans’ chances of winning the Senate.

What would that look like? I called SBAList's president Marjorie Dannenfelser to talk about the new training. First, candidates would be vetted and endorsed. Then, they'd be presented with a few options for learning gaffe-avoidance?

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"You only have so much control over human nature," said Dannenfelser. "One of the things we really can do is to help march candidates through all the tough questions, hear what they have to say, help them formulate the best response, the most articulate, compassionate response they can, and then memorize it. That's what most candidates do on issues that are not sensitive. They need to do it on the ones that are most sensitive, because those are the ones they get flat-footed on."

The SBAList was already giving candidates some advice along these lines. "We'll need to redo that program," said Dannenfelser, "to do something more broad-based. There might be an online piece, which only they have access to. We're looking at a highly individualized top candidate portion. The top candidates -- you can't do this with every candidate in the country -- but our top candidates, we want to put them through video-taped murder boards where they see themselves, they see their own responses. Not everyone will do this, but we want to help the candidates in that way."

Finding the best possible frame for your views is just part of politics. But couldn't a tough, socratic interviewer trip up any candidate who believed that human life begins at conception, no matter the circumstances? Dannenfelser finds that the candidates' "own experience, their own lives, their own humanity, really seeps into their opinions about the dignity of all human beings. Sometimes they haven't even thought about that yet. If pat answers are important, their actual interaction with the pat answers are also important."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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