Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) on Thursday blasted the Democratic Party for providing women with free birth control "because they cannot control their libido."
His argument was that Democrats send a mixed message in accusing the GOP of a "war on women," saying it is their party that isn't standing up for women and that the birth control provision in ObamaCare isn't aimed at protecting women.
But the statement quickly provided fodder for Democrats, who accused the Republican of making crass comments in the vein of other GOP politicians who have come under criticism for comments about contraception and abortion.
The renewed controversy within the party over how to talk about women and appeal to female voters came on the same day the party announced it was tapping GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) to deliver the Republican response to the president's State of the Union address next week.
But instead of allowing Republicans to showcase their own promising female lawmaker — a mother of three who just gave birth two months ago — the news had to compete for attention with Huckabee's comments.
Huckabee's points at the lunchtime address at the RNC meeting may have been well-intentioned, but they were overshadowed by the striking language he used.
"It's time Republicans no longer accept listening to the Democrats talk about a 'war on women,' " Huckabee said during a speech at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting in Washington. "Republicans don’t have a war on women; they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender." [WATCH VIDEO]
Huckabee instead said it is Democrats who are insulting women.
"If Democrats want to insult the women of America by telling them they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government, then so be it," he continued. "Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have claimed them to be."
Democrats immediately pounced on Huckabee's response as another example of GOP missteps in how they talk about women. During the 2012 election cycle, Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana made comments on rape and abortion that got them in trouble and contributed to the loss of winnable seats for the GOP.
Campaigns quickly moved to tie Huckabee's comments to GOP candidates he had already endorsed.
"Harris Supporter Huckabee: Dems Think Women Can’t Control Their Libido," read one release from the North Carolina Democratic Party, pointing to Huckabee's support for Baptist pastor Mark Harris, a GOP candidate running against Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). Kentucky Democrats also pointed to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) embrace of Huckabee — he's endorsed the GOP leader in his primary and general election campaign and appeared on his radio show last week.
A release from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hit Sen. Mark Pryor's (D-Ark.) Republican opponent: "While Huckabee’s comments are obviously offensive to all women, his positions on women’s issues, shared with Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton, are even more dangerous for women in Arkansas and across the country."
White House press secretary Jay Carney also weighed in during Thursday's briefing, saying Huckabee's comments were "offensive to me and to women."
Carney told reporters he had not seen the comments before his daily press briefing, but when an excerpt was read out loud, the White House spokesman said they sounded offensive.
"Whoever said it sounds offensive to me and to women,'' Carney said.
Huckabee also took aim at Democrats' recent focus on income inequality, but that message was likely lost in the furor over his comments on health care and birth control
"I'm so tired of hearing that the Democrats are out there for the little guy. Folks, the Democrats have kept their feet on top of the little guy, keeping him the little guy. I want him to have the opportunity to be the big guy and he can't with the government on his throat," Huckabee said to a standing ovation from the Republican National Committee members.
"We should be the party that unapologetically says that there are way too many people who are struggling and are poor," he said earlier in the speech.
The former presidential candidate also took aim at Republican purists who attack other Republicans. Huckabee himself faced attacks from the fiscally conservative Club for Growth during his run for the White House. Many other Republican elected officials have taken flak from the conservative base for perceived apostasies over the years, and some divisive primaries have cost them House and Senate seats.
Huckabee said Republicans are likely to take back the Senate — if they can avoid tearing each other apart in primaries this year.
"The only thing that would keep us from [winning Senate control] is that we'd decide that we'd rather fight each other than fight for the people of this country who deserve a different and better kind of government than Barack Obama and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have given them," he said. "Let's stop using the term RINO. Let's stop calling each other somehow less Republican than someone else."
— Justin Sink and Jessica Taylor contributed to this post.
— This post was updated at 6:25 p.m.