President Trump apologized to Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and his family for the “terrible pain and suffering” they endured during his confirmation process, declaring that “what happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process.” Democrats seem to be taking the opposite lesson from the Kavanaugh fight. As Politico recently tweeted, “After failing to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Democrats wonder if it’s time to be more ruthless.”
More ruthless? There are a lot of reasons the effort to stop Kavanaugh failed, but a lack of ruthlessness is not one of them. Kavanaugh’s opponents just tried to destroy a man without a shred of corroborating evidence. No tactic, no unfounded accusation, was too extreme. Democrats demanded that the FBI investigate not just Christine Blasey Ford’s uncorroborated accusations, but also the charge in the New Yorker’s hit piece that Kavanaugh had exposed himself to a college classmate, Deborah Ramirez, as well as the scurrilous accusation by Michael Avenatti client Julie Swetnick that Kavanaugh participated in gang rapes at high school parties. How can you get any more ruthless than unfounded accusations of gang rape?
Democrats did not lose the Kavanaugh fight because they were not ruthless enough. They lost because, as always, the left overreached. Their increasingly brazen and unsupported charges against Kavanaugh backfired, strengthening the GOP’s case that Kavanaugh was the victim of a political hit job, and actually helping to secure his confirmation.
They also lost because of their disastrous decision last year to filibuster the nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch, a justice of impeccable qualification and temperament. If Democrats had kept their powder dry then, they would still have had the filibuster in place when Kavanaugh was nominated. As it stands, Republicans were barely able to confirm Kavanaugh; they likely would never have been able muster the votes to invoke the nuclear option to get him onto the court.
In the case of Gorsuch, at least there was no attempt at character assassination. That was because he was a conservative justice replacing a conservative justice, the late Antonin Scalia. His confirmation simply restored the status quo ante. Kavanaugh, by contrast, was replacing Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the court’s key swing vote. His confirmation could swing the court’s ideological balance for a generation, so he had to be destroyed. If they did this to Kennedy’s replacement, think of what Democrats will do if, at some point in his presidency, Trump ends up nominating someone to replace a liberal Supreme Court justice. It’s hard to imagine anything worse than charges of gang rape, but I doubt we have yet plumbed the depths of the ruthlessness of which Democrats are capable.
Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Their strategic miscalculations, and embrace of what they once decried as the “politics of personal destruction,” backfired. And the reverberations may not yet be over. Since Kavanaugh’s hearings, the number of Republicans who say the November elections are “very important” has grown by 12 points to 80 percent — closing the enthusiasm gap with Democrats. The attacks on Kavanaugh have awoken a sleeping giant. It may not be enough to save the House, where Republicans are defending 25 seats in districts Hillary Clinton won. But the Kavanaugh fiasco may cost Democrats their chance to retake the Senate — and with it the power to block future Trump judicial nominations. If so, it means their search-and-destroy mission against Kavanaugh may end up handing Trump the ability to get even more Supreme Court justices confirmed.
Democrats have also given Republicans reason to look past their frustrations with Trump’s erratic behavior in office. Millions of Republicans put aside their misgivings and voted for Trump in 2016 for one reason: the Supreme Court. Now he has delivered. It has not escaped notice that he never once backed down in his support for Kavanaugh. Even at the lowest moments, there were no signs of wavering, no leaks from the White House that the president was quietly looking at potential replacements just in case Kavanaugh’s nomination failed. At his ceremonial swearing-in Monday, Kavanaugh thanked Trump for his “steadfast, unwavering support.” He’s right. The president stood firm until the end, and won. Now it’s time for Democrats to be honest with themselves about why they lost.