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The whole Todd Akin fiasco is kind of fascinating, isn’t it? It’s hard to remember the last time the Republican establishment has turned against one of their own quite so fast or quite so furiously. Normally they’d circle the wagons and invent some bizarrely creative reason why Akin had done nothing wrong, and even if he had, Democrats have done far worse.

But not this time. This time the lynch mob is out. Why? I think it’s because they learned a lesson from 2010: the tea party yahoos can seriously hurt them. Candidates like Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Christine O’Donnell cost them Senate seats that they could have won, and with control of the Senate genuinely within reach in 2012 they’re just not willing to take any risks this time around. Claire McCaskill is a sure goner running against any halfway normal Republican opponent, and no one wants to let Todd Akin get in the way of that. Ideological purity may be important, but winning elections is even more important. Right now, Akin isn’t running against McCaskill, he’s running against the ghosts of Angle, Buck, and O’Donnell.

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