October 8, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Reality Check, Post-Kavanaugh

The Democratic strategy didn't backfire. It just failed to work.

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The Editorial Board’s mission is to cut through the noise by speaking plainly about politics. That mission is especially relevant now after so many spent so much time this weekend explaining why the Democrats lost the battle over Brett Kavanaugh.

Here’s a reality check. The Republicans had the advantage. They always had the advantage. There are 51 Republicans in the United States Senate. There are 49 Democrats. The GOP needed a simple majority to confirm the judge. They could have lost one Republican. The vice president would then have broken the tie.

It was a numbers game in the beginning. It was a numbers game at the end. Everything else might have impacted those numbers. But don’t let possibilities take away from this stone-cold and fundamental fact: the GOP had more votes.

As Adam Liptak wrote in the Times:

“The confirmation process was a bare-knuckle brawl, and the nomination was muscled through by sheer force of political will. All of this inflicted collateral damage on the court, leaving it injured and diminished.”

That hasn’t stopped people from coming up with stories as to why the Republicans won. Some pointed to Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ attorney. His client, Julie Swetnick, said she saw Kavanaugh’s alleged involvement in sexual crimes. Others said confirmation was the result of backlash against the witch hunt of a decent man.

To which, I say maybe. But probably not.

Again Donald Trump and the GOP started at 51. The holdouts did, I think, wrestle genuinely with their decision, but they were wrestling genuinely toward a politically satisfying way to say yes. That is, they wanted or were planning to confirm Kavanaugh, but needed to sift through the details to find an acceptable political reason to.

Politics is often most coherent when it’s shaped into a story. But we should be skeptical of stories. All stories. They can distort political reality as much or more than they illuminate it. And the Republicans are already telling the story of how the Democratic strategy to oppose Kavanaugh is going to help them hold the Senate.

Mitch McConnell told the Times:

“The tactics they used completely backfired. Harassing members at their homes, crowding the hall with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference. So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”

No, they didn’t backfire. They just failed to work. As for unifying the GOP, meh. All but three Republicans were ready to confirm. The others were looking for a reason, as I said. They found one evidently in the Democrats’ opposition. But the salient fact is they were searching. They likely would have found one, one way or another.

It’s true that the Republicans are experiencing a post-Kavanaugh bump in the polls. It’s true that the battle over Kavanaugh might have lit a fire under the Republican base. But it’s too early to tell. More likely, the bump is the result of wall-to-wall coverage. Now that Kavanaugh is confirmed, the news will move on. Polling will, too.

I could be wrong, but look: There’s a month between now and Election Day. That’s an eternity in American politics. Each day contains approximately 6,000 news cycles (kidding). Check back in in a week. If the GOP is still rising, then we can talk.

A note to readers

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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