Election Day in less than one month, Brett Kavanaugh headed to the Supreme Court and American voters – maybe mobs of them – will head to the polls.
President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have a legacy-building conservative to replace swing vote Anthony Kennedy and ensure a rightward tilt for decades to come. Is that worth the House or Senate majority?
Their long-term accomplishment could come with a very bitter pill if voters, particularly women and independents, are turned off by what it took to get Kavanaugh seated.
The wrenching spectacle of hearings in which the now-Justice Kavanaugh was accused of decades-old sexual harassment and the subsequent determination of Senate Republicans and Trump to block for Kavanaugh culminated a political battle that was notable and exhausting even in the Trump era, which is saying something.
Seeking to erase Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh, Trump on Monday said the charges against him were “made up” and part of a “hoax.” He argued Democrats would pay a price at the polls for their opposition to Kavanaugh.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of things happen on November 6 that would not have happened before – the American public has seen this charade, has seen this dishonesty by the Democrats,” Trump said at the White House as he went out the door on his way to an event in Florida. He added that he’s friends with many Democrats who are going to vote for Republicans.
“The main base of the Democrats have shifted so far left, that we’ll end up being Venezuela. This country would end up being Venezuela,” Trump said.
Republicans, after a coordinated defense of Kavanaugh before his confirmation, have already pivoted to a coordinated defense of their majorities, seeking to paint those who loudly opposed Kavanaugh as part of a “mob.”
Mobs at the gate
Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both used the term over the weekend, trying to dismiss the opposition to their guy as the feeling of a few, loud protesters.
“In their quest for power, the radical Democrats have turned into an angry mob,” Trump said at a rally in Kansas on Saturday.
Whether painting protesters as a subset of unruly partisans is accurate or will be effective is very much up for debate. But the loud protests on Capitol Hill against Kavanaugh were unlike anything seen on Capitol Hill, perhaps, since 2010, when Democrats staked their majorities on passing Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, and the tea party conservatives rose up to make their anger known.
Democrats are hoping something similar happens in the wake of Kavanaugh. A message that was already focused on defending that health care legislation will now also turn very much on the justice who tapped a raw nerve with the #MeToo movement.
There is evidence that the court, which is usually a more motivating issue for Republicans, could drive Democrats to the polls this year. In a late-September Pew Poll completed before Kavanaugh’s confirmation, 76% said the Supreme Court was “very important” – the first time in years the economy did not top the poll.
As CNN’s Grace Sparks wrote in September, more Democrats (81%) said it was “an important issue for their vote” than Republicans (72%). The most-referenced important issue for Republicans was the economy, which drew 85% of their registered voters. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats said that health care was the issue most on their minds.
Look for new polling to see if Kavanaugh’s confirmation compounds the anger of Democrats.
Now that the court has that conservative majority, will it still be such a key issue for conservatives? This is a question to be answered in one month. But McConnell would love for Trump to get more nominees. He bucked his own standard in 2016 when Republicans unilaterally sat on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland and said over the weekend there would be nothing to keep Republicans from pushing through another nominee, even in 2020, if a vacancy came open.
Republicans promise pro-Kavanaugh message against Trump-state Democrats
Politics in midterms is a state- and district-based endeavor, not really a national one.
While the House majority seems very much in play for Democrats, the Senate map greatly favors Republicans. Most of the contested seats involve Democrats running for re-election in states won by Trump and so presumably are more open to Kavanaugh. Only one of those senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted for Kavanaugh, saying it was in the best interests of his state and the desire of his constituents. The rest of the Trump-state Democrats – even seriously endangered incumbents like Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, sided with the party, and Republicans made clear over the weekend they will exploit that vote.
Key Republican votes are either retiring (Jeff Flake of Arizona) or are not up for reelection until 2020 (Susan Collins of Maine) or 2022 (Lisa Murkowski of Alaska).
Not even Manchin, who supported Kavanaugh, will be safe from a Kavanaugh platform by Republicans in this closing month.
“Joe Manchin’s still a Democrat and we’re trying to hold the majority,” McConnell said on “Face the Nation.” “We appreciate his vote for Judge Kavanaugh. I think it was the right thing to do. But we’re trying to win seats.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who turned into a pro-Kavanaugh attack dog for the GOP during the hearings and after, said he will set aside a longstanding commitment to not campaign against sitting Democratic senators.
“I’ve never campaigned against a colleague in my life,” Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s about to change. I’m going to go throughout this country to let people in these purple states, red states where Trump won know what I thought, know what I think, about this process.”
The South Carolina senator was referring to allegations from him and other Republicans that Democrats tried to slow-walk Kavanaugh’s nomination and that they held allegations against him to pop just before the vote.
Kavanaugh also joined in on this conspiracy theory, saying it was revenge for his work against the Clintons.
Kavanaugh backlash could help Democrats
There’s no evidence of a conspiracy, but the allegation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, which the judge has vehemently denied, did emerge after his initial confirmation hearing, prolonging the process, causing a painful national conversation about who to believe – Kavanaugh or his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford – and making him the most tainted new justice since Clarence Thomas in 1991.
A year later, a wave of new women senators took office and their ascension – now known as the “Year of the Woman” – is partially credited to backlash against the treatment of Anita Hill when she raised alarms about Clarence Thomas, alleging he sexually harassed her.
Even before Kavanaugh’s nomination, there were rumblings of a new “Year of the Woman” as a record number of women are running for office.
’A pox on both houses’
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who has kept Trump at arm’s length, was also disgusted by the Kavanaugh process, but for a different reason.
“I think the whole process – look, it’s both sides. A pox on both houses for the way this was conducted,” he said.
He’s tried to fill the middle ground space heading into 2020, and he told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday that nobody – Republican or Democrat – comes out of the bloody Kavanaugh battle looking good.
“People in the country are appalled,” said Kasich. “That’s because it’s like, I got to win, and you got to lose.”
As Democrats and Republicans try to capitalize before November, Kasich said he thinks there will be Democratic pickups and maybe a new House majority, but they’re moving too far left for the country. He argued there’s something larger at stake.
“Look, sometimes, you can have a short-term win, and the long term, you have to wonder about the soul of our country,” he said.
CNN’s Allison Malloy contributed to this report.