Editor’s Note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He was a consultant to Priorities USA Action, which was a pro-Obama super PAC before it was a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Now that President Trump has bestowed the rose of Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court seat upon Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the action moves to the Senate. Special attention there will be paid to Democratic senators who represent states President Trump won in 2016. Should they, as Jake Tapper asked me Monday, “vote with their caucus (in the Senate), against the nominee… or vote the way their constituents in red-leaning states would like you to do?”
Actually, this is an easy call. Red-state Democrats should oppose Kavanaugh, period. They should do so early and often; loudly and proudly. Here’s why:
• Kavanaugh is a total swamp creature. Rather than choosing a judge from Indiana or Pennsylvania or other heartland states, President Trump went with a Beltway Boy, born and bred. Kavanaugh got to where he is the Washington way: by loyally serving powerful figures in the party – first special prosecutor Ken Starr in his pursuit of Bill Clinton, then as a legal hit man in the Constitutional drive-by shooting of Bush v. Gore. And then, finally, as an aide to Pres. George W. Bush in the White House. Bush rewarded Kavanaugh’s service by placing him on the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where he has consistently backed presidential power against the little guy or gal. Kavanaugh is the kind of guy who sucks up and spits down – the epitome of a Beltway swamp creature. Nobody who rides a John Deere tractor all day will be able to relate to Beltway Brett.
• No one ever got beat for opposing a Supreme Court nominee. When President Obama nominated moderate Judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley refused to even hold a hearing. Despite the fact that Obama carried Grassley’s state by six percent, Grassley refused to budge. It was a shocking breach, a dereliction of duty to refuse to even hold a hearing, much less a vote. After that unprecedented partisan obstruction, Grassley cruised to re-election. Other Republican senators from Obama states did the same, from Marco Rubio of Florida to Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
• A “Yes” vote will demoralize Democrats. From the wealthiest donors to the most eager grassroots activist, Democrats are solidly united against allowing President Trump to swing the Court to the right. Any Democrat who votes to do so may find her/his fundraising dry up and his/her volunteers walk away. Mid-terms are about enthusiasm. Right now, the Democrats have it. Voting for Kavanaugh would be a total buzzkill.
• This fight will be about a woman’s right to choose and health care. Senior Democratic sources have told me they plan to frame the fight around these two issues. Why abortion rights and health care? They are issues that unite Democrats while appealing to Independents and even Republicans. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 81% of Democrats want to preserve Roe – no surprise there. A striking 73% of Independents want to keep Roe, and even 43% of Republicans do. Similarly, the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermine key patient protections of the Affordable Care Act, like the ban on discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, is wildly unpopular. Perhaps that’s why Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is running on it, even though President Trump won his state by an eye-popping margin of 42 percentage points.
• Voting yes won’t stop Trump from slamming you. Rather than courting red-state Democrats, President Trump has been slamming them. A few days ago, Trump traveled to Montana, where he attacked Democratic Senator Jon Tester. He did so despite the fact that he might need Tester’s vote for his Supreme Court nominee. It is inconceivable that Trump will stand down if he receives Democratic support for the Court. He’s going to attack Democrats no matter what.
• If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. If President Trump is able to replace Justice Kennedy with a Trumpian Republican, women’s rights, gay rights, voting rights, the right to use contraceptives – so much of modern life – could be upended. Standing for principle, not caving to a bully, earns the respect of voters. Far better to be what Mark Shields calls “a conviction politician” rather than just another Washington windsock.
Get our free weekly newsletter
Finally, red state Democrats should commit early. Swing state – and pro-life – Democratic Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced his opposition Monday, even before Trump’s pick was known, tweeting: “I will oppose the nomination the President will make tonight because it represents a corrupt bargain with the far Right, big corporations, and Washington special interests.”
If other red-state Democrats follow Casey’s lead, the spotlight will shift to pro-choice Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Let them explain to their constituents and to history why they might vote for the end of Roe v. Wade.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote on the Affordable Care Act; he was not part of the court majority that upheld it in 2012.