There are two immediate reasons that President Trump might have decided that, after weeks of holding his fire, it was worth disparaging Christine Blasey Ford during a rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night.
The first is that Ford’s allegation that Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett M. Kavanaugh, had assaulted her when the two were in high school was putting Kavanaugh’s nomination at risk. Trump insists that he punches his opponents only after they punch him first, which isn’t true, but it’s certainly unusual for him to incur political damage without lashing out. On Tuesday, that moment arrived for Ford (whose opposition is to Kavanaugh’s nomination, not to Trump).
The second is that Republicans increasingly appear to believe that the Kavanaugh fight is energizing their voters. His nomination appears to be the most polarizing issue of Trump’s presidency, and there was some evidence from polling that rising to Kavanaugh’s defense was spurring more interest in the midterms on the right.
On Wednesday afternoon, we got new evidence to that effect in the form of a poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist.
That survey, completed this week, found a negligible difference between Democrats and Republicans in the percentage saying that this year’s congressional elections were very important. (Nearly everyone thinks the election is important to some degree.)
But that’s a big change from the responses to that same question in a poll from July. Then, there was a wide gap between the two parties in the percentage saying that the election was very important. Since July, the percentage of Republicans saying the election is very important has increased by 12 points.
What’s more, Republicans overwhelmingly say that they are more likely to support a candidate who backed Kavanaugh’s nomination — meaning that the energized base wants to see it happen.
It’s not only partisans who vote, of course. Democrats prefer candidates who oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination about as robustly as Republicans prefer candidates who support him. But overall, those who say the election is very important are nine points more likely to say that they prefer Kavanaugh-opposing candidates.
Why? Because of independents, who narrowly prefer candidates who oppose Kavanaugh. Or, more specifically, because of independent women, who are more than twice as likely to say they prefer a candidate who opposes Kavanaugh. (Independent men slightly prefer a candidate who is against Kavanaugh.)
This complicates the electoral math significantly. Republicans desperately need Republicans to turn out, of course, but they don’t necessarily want to energize Democrats to go vote, much less independents who are mad about the highest-profile political fight of the moment. It makes sense why Trump wants to appeal to Republicans; he rarely tries to appeal to anyone else. But the picture for other Republicans is more complicated.
They can be reassured by the fact that independents are still less likely to think the election is very important. Only 65 percent of independents say the midterms are very important, a much lower percentage than among partisans.
Anyway, we know that Republicans support Kavanaugh and are energized to vote. But will that hold even if the FBI investigation demanded by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as a condition for his support of Kavanaugh doesn’t definitively resolve the question of who was telling the truth during last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: Kavanaugh or Ford?
Yes, it does. Three-quarters of Republicans think Kavanaugh should be confirmed even if doubt still lingers about whether he assaulted Ford. (Last week, polling showed that most Republicans thought he should be confirmed even if he demonstrably had assaulted Ford.)
Another red flag, though: By a 13-point margin, more of those who say the election is very important oppose confirming Kavanaugh if doubt still exists.
Unsurprisingly, views of Kavanaugh’s testimony are heavily polarized. Most Democrats think that his testimony under oath was mostly false, with Democratic men more likely to hold that view. (Notice, too, the split between independent men and women on this issue.)
Republican women were more likely to think that Kavanaugh lied than were Republican men. But they were also much more likely to think that Ford was mostly lying. More than half of Republican women held that view.
It hasn’t been necessary for Republicans to assert that Ford is lying. Kavanaugh’s nomination hangs by a thread, but his supporters in the Senate and the White House have mostly tried an interesting strategy of claiming to accept the conflicting testimony of the two as accurate.
Two weeks ago, it seemed as if the Kavanaugh fight was going to result in a close confirmation battle but not necessarily have a strong effect on the midterms. Since then, we’ve seen polling that puts the Supreme Court at the top of the list of most important issues to midterm voters and, now, a poll showing that Republicans are energized, too.
What will be fascinating is seeing how the results of the Kavanaugh vote, whatever they are, affect views of the upcoming elections.