Members Only | October 2, 2018 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
GOP Believes Voters Will Punish Dems for Kavanaugh
But the more they attack Democrats, the more the Republicans alienate women.
I’ve been puzzling over why the Republicans are all-in for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. It’s not like there aren’t a dozen apparatchiks to choose from.
Why endure a week-long drip-drip of bad headlines in order to confirm him? Why not cut him off, tap a new nominee, and take advantage of renewed willingness to play ball? There’s still time, though not much. Why all-in for just one mook?
Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman suggested Monday that the Republicans have convinced themselves the fight over Kavanaugh is a win for them—at least as it pertains to holding the Senate. (The GOP leadership appears ready to concede that the House is lost.) Plus, they said, the Republicans are blinded by tribalism.
One answer is that Republicans have convinced themselves not only that Kavanaugh is the real victim here, but also that the accusations against him constitute one of the greatest injustices in the history of mankind. A line must be drawn, a stand must be made, for the sake of all that is right and good in the world — and especially so the damn liberals won’t win. When you hate your opponents as much as Republicans hate Democrats, giving those opponents what they want today — even if it’s so you can win a more significant victory tomorrow — is utterly intolerable.
That the Republicans think the fight over Kavanaugh is a win seems right to me. It explains the concerted effort to characterize the Kavanaugh affair as a hit job on the part of the Democrats. So much so, the midterms next month will be a referendum on the left’s ill treatment of a really nice guy. Per conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt:I’m not saying Hewitt is wrong, but it’s very unlikely that he’s right, given that midterms are about the party in power, not the party out of power. Furthermore, midterms are about mobilized minorities prepared to move the majoritarian needle, and this year, that mobilized minority is gendered. Many women were enraged by Donald Trump’s election. They are finding new wells of rage at the sight of men pounding the table while a woman quietly and bravely stands up for herself.
It isn’t a hit job. Christine Blasey Ford came forward after The Intercept reported that Dianne Feinstein had a letter detailing her allegations. (The Intercept later said Feinstein’s office did not leak.) The report did not tell Ford’s story. She told her story.
But the Republicans believe the Democrats were sitting on the allegations for weeks hoping to sabotage Kavanaugh’s confirmation at the 11th hour. In the version of the story, Ford is an object, not the subject. (Feinstein herself said she did not make the letter public, because the event happened a long time ago and because it was too personal.) Again and again, the Republican made this about Kavanaugh’s suffering while ignoring Ford’s. It’s not hard to imagine what will happen next month. The more the Republicans attack the Democrats in order to turn out the GOP base, the more they alienate women who might otherwise prefer to vote for a Republican.
This all-in strategy depends furthermore on Kavanaugh’s trustworthiness. The more we know about him, however, the more we can see his regard for the truth is Trumpian. Not only has he lied about trivialities—like the meaning of “boof” and Maryland’s drinking age limit. He has lied about matters consequential to his confirmation. NBC News last night reported that he knew the woman he exposed himself to at college was telling her story to The New Yorker. He was
personally talking with former classmates about [Deborah] Ramirez’s story in advance of The New Yorker article that made her allegation public. In one message, [Yale classmate Karen] Yarasavage said Kavanaugh asked her to go on the record in his defense. Two other messages show communication between Kavanaugh’s team and former classmates in advance of the story.
Two days after the magazine published the story, Kavanaugh told Senators it was the first time he heard of the allegations. Then, he actually smeared Ramirez.
He said that it “strikes me as, you know, what is going on here? When someone is calling around to try to refresh other people? Is that what’s going on? What’s going on with that? That doesn’t sound — that doesn’t sound — good to me. It doesn’t sound fair. It doesn’t sound proper. It sounds like an orchestrated hit to take me out.”
To be sure, grievance fueled Donald Trump’s victory. But the president is not on the ballot in November. Every Republican voter with skin in game is set to vote. The GOP base is already turned out, as it were. The Democrats, meanwhile, have the advantage. Raging against the dying of the light of male privilege isn’t going to change that.
Kavanaugh, ‘sharp and partisan’
None of the above mentions to the problem of the Republicans confirming a nominee who compromised himself last week. As I said Monday, there’s no putting that toothpaste back in the tube. Kavanaugh has created conditions in which no left-of-center plaintiff could ever see him as a fair and impartial arbiter of the law.
Jeff Flake, who demand an FBI investigation, said today that “sharp and partisan” views have no place on the US Supreme Court. My former student, Elaina Plott, later “caught up with Flake briefly as he left the event, and asked if this meant he would not vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, even if the FBI cleared him by week’s end.
He appeared rattled, and his handlers rushed him into the stairwell.
“I didn’t say that …” he stammered.
“I wasn’t referring to him.”
How Kavanaugh expands the Dem base
Again, midterm elections are about hard partisans, but the Democrats are likely to benefit from casual voters who are outraged by the Kavanaugh affair. This is my takeaway from reading about Candace Faber in the Times Monday.
A resident of Seattle, the 35-year-old consultant live-tweeted last week Kavanaugh’s testimony. Eventually, her impressions came to a head: “Is anyone else just fed up and ready to name names,” Faber wrote on Twitter. “Because I am!”
Then she tagged a Washington state senator, adding “I’m done being silent.”
Later, she told the Times:
“I felt a tremendous amount of fear in that moment. Then I felt a tremendous amount of courage rise to meet it. And if anything on the other side of this, I feel more whole. I feel more courageous. I am standing more powerfully in my own truth than I ever have.”
It’s almost certain there are more women waiting to tell their stories. Hence, there are more women willing, if not eager, to turnout and punish the Republicans at the polls. Politically speaking, this is what an expanding Democratic base looks like.
SCOTUS at 4-4?
As I was writing the above, Jonathan Swan broke the news that the White House might withhold a nominee for the next two years if the FBI’s investigation into Kavanaugh brings down the appeals court judge, or if the Democrats take the Senate next month. His source told him that: “Politically, I think they [the Republicans] would rather keep it 4-4 rather than put somebody acceptable on the court. He [Donald Trump] needs to run on polarization and the court in 2020.”
I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow. For now, let me say that a 4-4 SCOTUS would make Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, one of the most powerful jurists in the country.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.