Politico reports that Trump and his advisers believe that the revival of the issue of Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, brought about by the publication of a new book detailing what a sham the “investigation” into accusations was, will be a boon to his campaign:
For Team Trump, the ongoing focus on Kavanaugh is a political gift. The president and his aides are latching on to the uproar to energize conservatives about another hot-button emotional issue that resonates with the base, a move that can support GOP fundraising and ultimately bolster get-out-the-vote efforts.
“Grabbing guns and smearing Supreme Court Justices? Next the Democrats will hold up a dismembered eight-month-old fetus!” said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president. “They are handing the election to President Trump.”
If all you knew was the very visible anger that any mention of Kavanaugh brings up on the right, you might think Conway is right. It gets conservatives excited! This is terrible for Democrats! But is that really true?
It might be more persuasive were it not for the fact that conservatives said exactly the same thing before the 2018 elections, and many in the mainstream media thought they were right (Kavanaugh was confirmed in early October of last year):
- “The Kavanaugh spectacle seems to have evaporated the Democrats’ enthusiasm edge,” said Slate.
- “Republicans needed a midterms miracle. Could Brett Kavanaugh be it?” asked CNN.
- “Republican enthusiasm surges amid Supreme Court battle,” proclaimed McClatchy.
- “G.O.P. Hopes Anger Over Treatment of Kavanaugh Propels Voters to the Polls,” reported the New York Times.
These articles were filled with quotes from Republicans about how the predicted Democratic wave would not come to pass, because Republicans were now so fired up by their anger at Kavanaugh’s supposed mistreatment.
And they certainly were angry. One could write an entire book on why it was that the accusations against Kavanaugh set conservatives into such a state. Watching Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) erupt in positively incandescent fury, you would have thought that we had just uncovered a previously unknown genocide, so intense was his moral outrage.
But it was not the murder of millions that made Graham and others so livid; it was the fact that rather than being respectfully granted what was his by birthright, the noble Kavanaugh had to hear accusations from women who said he mistreated them, and he was forced to answer questions about those accusations. A man bred for the court, delivered from Georgetown Prep and Yale Law, had to answer to a bunch of women? This was the world-shattering injustice, the true crime against humanity, the affront that cried out for vengeance.
But it turned out that lots of liberals got mad at what they saw, too, even if they didn’t rant and rave so colorfully for the cameras. The confident Republican predictions were wrong, and the election did indeed turn out to be a large Democratic victory.
But what about the Senate? Didn’t Democrats lose seats in three Republican states? Yes they did, but there’s no persuasive evidence that they would have held those seats in states such as North Dakota (which Trump won in 2016 by 30 points) had it not been for the Kavanaugh nomination.
The closest anyone can come to claiming the Kavanaugh hearings worked in Republicans favor is by citing some exit polls showing that many people who voted Republican cited Kavanaugh as something important to them. But results such as those are too easy to overinterpret, because we have no idea if someone who says “Kavanaugh was important, and I voted Republican” would have stayed home or voted Democratic otherwise, or if that voter is just a Republican mentioning the biggest recent controversy.
It’s also important to remember that the weight of public opinion was clearly against Kavanaugh, with many opposing his nomination. And it’s hard to believe that there is a significant number of Republicans who care deeply about the Supreme Court, were enraged by the Kavanaugh controversy and might not go to the polls in 2020 unless they’re reminded about it.
No issue occurs in isolation, of course. But it’s long been the case that the Supreme Court has been far more important as a mobilizing issue for Republicans than for Democrats. They talk about it, they care about it, and they support presidential candidates they might otherwise have reservations about — like Trump — because of it.
We can’t say yet, but it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that this will change in 2020, because Democratic voters will be just as motivated by the Supreme Court as Republicans are. The Kavanaugh nomination, in addition to being a key moment in the Me Too movement and a case study in how women’s stories are belittled and attacked so the privileges of powerful men can be maintained, was a lesson for Democratic voters in the importance of the court.
That’s not to mention what will happen in 2020 when the court hears a whole succession of controversial issues in which Kavanaugh and the other conservatives deliver the Republican Party one victory after another, up to and including the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. Put it all together, and the Supreme Court may well be one of the reasons a Democrat gets elected to the White House. No matter how angry Trump tells Republicans to get.