With Brett M. Kavanaugh now on the Supreme Court, Republicans are coalescing around a new closing argument in the midterms: The Democratic response to this whole affair shows them to be lawless, out of control and unfit to govern, so you should keep power in the hands of the GOP, which heroically took on the angry mob in defense of the true victim in this situation: Brett M. Kavanaugh.
In so doing, Republicans appear to be gambling that this will save them the Senate, or perhaps even lead to gains there. But it could cost them the House — yet this appears to be a risk Republicans are willing to take, since that appears likely anyway, and holding or expanding their ranks in the Senate gives Republicans a freer hand to keep remaking the judiciary.
New polling out Monday morning — and some intelligence I gleaned from a senior Democratic strategist on how this is all playing — illustrates the situation.
A new Post/Schar School poll finds that in 69 battleground House districts across the country, Democratic candidates lead Republican candidates overall by 50 percent to 46 percent. The reason this bodes so well for Democrats is that 63 of these districts are held by Republicans. Indeed, to put this in perspective, note that in these same 69 districts, Republicans led in 2016 by 15 points.
Women are driving the Democratic advantage. In these 69 districts, women favor the Democratic candidates by 54 to 40. And once again, the backlash to Trump among college-educated white women that we’ve already seen this cycle appears to be benefiting Democrats: That demographic favors the Dem candidates by an astonishing 62 to 35.
Judging by this polling, at least, it’s hard to see how the Kavanaugh fight is helping Republicans in the battle for the House. First, Trump is motivating Democrats more: In these districts, 40 percent of Dems and Dem-leaning independents say Trump is the single most important issue in their vote, vs. only 15 percent who say that on the GOP side. And among those who cite judicial nominations as an extremely important motivator, Dems lead by 50 to 47. Again, almost all these districts are held by Republicans.
The story is very different in the Senate
Over the weekend, Trump explained why he decided to attack Christine Blasey Ford. Trump said that “I thought I had to even the playing field,” adding: “It was a very unfair situation. So I evened the playing field. Once I did that, it started to sail through.”
A senior Democratic strategist who is closely tracking internal data explained to me in a fascinating way how Trump’s behavior is playing politically. He tells me that in the red states that will decide control of the Senate — states where Democratic incumbents are fighting to hold on — many voters came to see the battle over Kavanaugh’s fate as inextricably tied to Trump — that is, as all about protecting and rallying to the side of Trump himself.
In other words, Kavanaugh was transformed from a generic conservative hatched in a Federalist Society lab into a Trumpist. This may explain Trump’s attacks on Ford — aside from succumbing to his usual depravity, he may have sensed that he needed to get GOP senators more fearful of the wrath of the Trump base. It also helps explain why the White House advised Kavanaugh to show his feelings at his hearing, which he did by lashing out in anger and histrionic self-pity, while vowing partisan retribution.
This Democratic strategist tells me this depiction of Kavanaugh as Trumpian victim may have worked in red states with competitive Senate races. For all the talk about white women shifting against Trump, this strategist says that many red-state white women came to see Kavanaugh as a sympathetic figure who is being “railroaded.” The strategist tells me these women associated this battle with their own husbands, sons and grandsons, asking themselves: “Why should 35-year-old accusations that are uncorroborated derail his entire career?”
The Kavanaugh-as-victim strategy
All this helps explain what we’re now seeing from Senate Republicans. In North Dakota, where endangered Democrat Heidi Heitkamp courageously came out against Kavanaugh in a state Trump won by 36 points, her GOP opponent, Kevin Cramer, just ripped into the #MeToo movement. Cramer mocked the very idea that we should believe women who claim to have been sexually assaulted, scoffing “that you’re just supposed to believe somebody because they said it happened,” and deriding #MeToo as a “movement towards victimization.”
This is particularly absurd in light of the mass movement among Republicans toward casting Kavanaugh and Republicans as the true victims in this whole affair. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now claims public demonstrations of anger at Kavanaugh and Senate Republicans helped unify them behind Trump’s nominee. (This is nonsense, as Republicans were always going to support him no matter what.) The chair of the Republican National Committee laughably asserts that Kavanaugh was the victim of a “smear campaign” by “the left’s angry mob.” (This neatly reveals the feigned GOP willingness to give a hearing to Ford’s claims as hollow.)
And then there’s Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, who has emerged as the twisted, grimacing face of right-wing rage at the very idea that Ford’s claims ever deserved a full and serious public examination. On Fox News over the weekend, Graham unleashed a stream of phony outrage about supposed efforts to “humiliate and railroad” Kavanaugh and “destroy his life.” Graham added that he hopes Republicans make this central to the case against Democrats in “purple” House districts.
As that Democratic strategist’s intelligence suggests, this bad-faith-saturated dudgeon very well may work in red states and thus may save the Senate for Republicans. But in endangered GOP-held House districts in suburban and more bluish areas? Good luck with that.