Brett Kavanaugh doesn't have to win a single Democratic vote to be confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice. And in fact, the late campaign against him came largely from the right, with conservatives casting doubt on his decisions on Obamacare, in particular. Some even posited he might be a bit too much like the man he's replacing, swing-vote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Kavanaugh made clear Monday night, though, that he's much more concerned about winning over the political middle. In fact, he made it abundantly clear — almost ridiculously so.
The nominee's introductory speech was remarkably political. Over and over again, Kavanaugh returned to the women in his life and the diversity of those around him. It was almost as if he was campaigning for a Democratic nomination in some random House district.
“My mom was a teacher,” he said. “In the 1960s and '70s, she taught history at two largely African American public high schools in Washington, D.C. — McKinley Tech and H.D. Woodson. Her example taught me the importance of equality for all Americans.”
He continued: “One of the few women prosecutors at that time, she overcame barriers and became a trial judge. The president introduced me tonight as Judge Kavanaugh. But to me that title will always belong to my mom.”
And: “My law clerks come from diverse backgrounds and points of view. I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.”
And: “I am part of the vibrant Catholic community in the D.C. area. The members of that community disagree about many things, but we are united by a commitment to serve.”
He even made a somewhat odd claim about his selection process. “No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination,” he said, after apparently reviewing the selection processes for about 160 previous Supreme Court nominees over about 230 years.
At other times, Kavanaugh slipped in anecdotes about coaching his daughters in basketball — and even attending this year's women's Final Four. “Our favorite memory was going to the historic Notre Dame-UConn women’s basketball game at this year’s Final Four. Unforgettable.” (In fairness, he's not exaggerating.)
He also emphasized his professional rapport and collegiality with left-leaning judges. He noted that he has served with "17 other judges, each of them a colleague and a friend.” And he name-dropped liberal Justice Elena Kagan, who as dean of Harvard Law School hired Kavanaugh to teach.
From top to bottom, the speech practically screamed: I'm safe. It wasn't about his judicial philosophy, but his personal life. The repeated allusions to the women in his life were undoubtedly an attempt to allay any concerns about how he may rule on Roe v. Wade. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said a nominee who is “hostile” to Roe would be her red line.
Kavanaugh, meanwhile, didn't really make any real attempt to allay concerns about his supposed squashiness on Obamacare or to cater to an allegedly skeptical Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). To the extent the GOP base isn't exactly in love with the pick — and there are some isolated instances of discontent — the wager seemed to be that everyone in the party will come around and that no GOP senator would dare mess up the party's chance at a 5-to-4 Supreme Court majority.
It's probably a good bet. But Kavanaugh also telegraphed it in no uncertain terms.