When someone asks you if a victim of rape should be compelled by the state to carry a resulting pregnancy to term, it is not a gaffe if you reply that this hypothetical almost never happens because women’s bodies have a way of preventing conception when they are under stress. It’s also not a gaffe to reply that, while it is certainly unfortunate that rape babies are occasionally produced, it’s all part of God’s plan and clearly God wants that baby to come into the world. These responses are not gaffes because they are actually honest responses that reflect what Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, respectively, actually believe.

A gaffe should be understood as an event where you actually say something that you didn’t mean to say or where you are caught being misinformed about some issue. While Todd Akin was misinformed about how human reproduction actually works, it was still how he thought human reproduction works. Call that one a half-gaffe. You can teach politicians what they shouldn’t say, but that won’t change what they believe. That’s why the following will not work very well:

The National Republican Congressional Committee wants to make sure there are no Todd Akin-style gaffes next year, so it’s meeting with top aides of sitting Republicans to teach them what to say — or not to say — on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman.

Speaker John Boehner is serious, too. His own top aides met recently with Republican staff to discuss how lawmakers should talk to female constituents.

“Let me put it this way, some of these guys have a lot to learn,” said a Republican staffer who attended the session in Boehner’s office.

There have been “multiple sessions” with the NRCC where aides to incumbents were schooled in “messaging against women opponents,” one GOP aide said.

When Todd Akin said that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” he was suggesting that any woman who does get pregnant must have consented to have sex in some way. That’s what he believes. When Richard Mourdock said that pregnancies that result from rape are a “gift from God” and “something that God intended to happen,” he was suggesting that women should be grateful for their very unwanted pregnancies. That is what he believes.

Perhaps both men could have been elected to the U.S. Senate if they had just been counseled to keep their mouths shut or to repeat some GOP-approved talking point instead of saying what they actually believe. Personally, I think the electorate was better able to make a choice in those elections because the candidates were honest.

Wouldn’t it be better to nominate people who don’t believe things that make women want to flee rather than “guys [that] have a lot to learn”?

The problem isn’t the messaging. The problem is “these guys.”

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com