What Do Donald Trump and Todd Akin Have In Common?

Both say repulsive, awful things. One is celebrated by the GOP while the other has lost support. What's the difference?

While the political world started this week consumed by Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s dumb, repulsive comments about rape and abortion, another interesting piece of news was overlooked: It was announced that Donald Trump would get a starring role on the opening day of the GOP’s national convention next week.

Trump, you may have noticed, is also dumb and repulsive.

He was, after all, the highest-profile advocate of the “birther” conspiracy theory that suggested President Obama isn’t actually American—and refused to give up on the notion even after the president released his long-form birth certificate to the public. Trump has also embraced notorious Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a fellow conspiracy-monger with a lamentable history of civil rights violations.

Republicans are—as of this writing—trying to push Akin out of the Missouri race to make room for a more palatable candidate. But they’re embracing and celebrating Trump at the national gathering. Which raises the question: What’s the difference?

Easy: Republicans are OK with the crazy. They love, encourage, and cultivate the crazy. They’ll take it as far as they can before they start losing elections.

And that’s Akin’s sin. Not being crazy. But being crazy in a swing state election, and potentially taking Mitt Romney’s presidential chances down with him.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s easy to attribute venal or stupid motives to your political opponents. Too easy. Ramesh Ponnuru, a conservative columnist, made that point in a great Bloomberg column this week. “Your side stirs up hate against the people on my side,” he wrote. “The horrible signs your people hold up at their protests, the venom your spokesmen spew on television: It’s scary. I wonder how you can go through life with all that anger inside you.”

His point: Both Republicans and Democrats think this stuff about each other. And yes, it’s awfully easy to slip into tribalism in politics.

On the other hand, Donald Trump will not be the star at the opening day of the Democratic convention. And I’ll wager that Democrats won’t let anybody so closely associated with conspiratorial nonsense be the face of the party when it comes time to re-nominate President Obama for election.

Remember: When conservatives discovered that White House advisor Van Jones had once signed a 9/11 “truther” petition that questioned whether George W. Bush had allowed the terrorist attacks to happen, he was quickly booted from office. Jones remains active in liberal politics, to be sure, but there’s no chance—none—that he’ll be leading the Democratic attack on Mitt Romney.

All of which suggests that Todd Akin’s problem isn’t that he says awful things, but that he chose the wrong time and place to say awful things. But there’s no reason that he and Donald Trump couldn’t be fitted for the same tinfoil hat.

It’s OK to be crazy in today’s GOP, after all. Just don’t be a crazy loser.