The Democrats did a good job holding firm on the Kavanaugh nomination
The rewriting of history by the victors has now begun. Articles have been appearing arguing that the Republicans did everything right in shepherding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to confirmation. The reality is much more complicated, and the Republicans should be cautious about taking their victory lap.
What we seem to be forgetting is that the Republicans had the votes. There was little, if any, chance of defeating Kavanaugh at all. I wrote about this over a month ago, as have Ezinne Ukoha, Austin Frank, Heather Jo Flores and others since then. To hope to defeat Kavanaugh given the Republicans control of all the branches of the federal government was nothing more than a pipe dream, especially given the fact that he was able to unify both the establishment Republicans as well as the Trump wing of the party. So congratulations, Republicans, you didn’t mess up a sure thing.
His confirmation, however, was by the narrowest of margins. In fact, it was the narrrowest margin any Supreme Court Justice has ever been confirmed by — even narrower than Clarence Thomas’s. Indeed, it was likely that this would have been the result even before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations became public. So hooray, your disgraceful behavior toward a survivor of sexual assault accomplished nothing.
More impressive was the fact that the Democrats mostly held firm. Virtually all the senators facing re-election this year from states won by Trump voted against Kavanaugh, including Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bill Nelson of Florida, and John Tester of Montana. All these states were won by Trump, all these incumbents face strong challengers, and most of these states were won by Romney over Obama, including Missouri, Indiana and Montana. And this list doesn’t even include Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, or Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, whose states were won by Trump but who appear to be on solid footing for re-election. Holding such a diverse group together under intense pressure from Republicans was an important accomplishment. The only Democrat to defect was Joe Manchin from West Virginia, who until recently was considered as good as dead.
Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota deserves special recognition here. Polls show her in deep trouble, and she is perhaps the Democrat most in danger of defeat. Furthermore, polls have indicated strong support for Kavanaugh’s nomination in her state, and yet, she stood firm. That is a profile in courage and something to be celebrated.
Similarly, Lisa Murkowski’s decision to oppose Kavanaugh was a victory. A Republican from a hardcore Republican state, Alaska, she turned her back on her party despite threats from Sarah Palin, her home state’s former governor. Bringing over any Republican votes on this nomination should be seen as a victory for Democrats.
Finally, although Democrats lost this battle, they may have won the war. While Republicans are celebrating the conservative coup of the Court, Democrats are angry. Anger is a great mobilizer. While Republicans may have been briefly angered by Kavanaugh’s alleged treatment, that anger will dissipate quickly, satiated by their triumph. I expect this process will only boost Democratic resolve in the upcoming election. Remember, mid-term elections are generally decided based upon who turns out to vote.
And long-term, the circus that the hearings became in the wake of Dr. Blasey’s allegations becoming public has clarified for Democrats the political nature of the Supreme Court. This clarity will enable them to pass reforms to change the nature of the Court once they again have power, something that is inevitable. Reform of the Court in the past was unthinkable due to its perceived position above the political fray. That impression is obviously gone.
Reporters love to tell the easy story, which is that Republicans did everything right. Instead, let’s show a little nuance and give credit where credit is due.
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