If there’s anything the past two years should have taught us is that the American public should be a bit more imaginative when it comes to its politics. These days, anything goes. Anything is possible in an election and in battles over Supreme Court nominees, too. We should have long ago thrown out the conventional wisdom coloring book and picked up an outlandish Twilight Zone style guide instead.
Opening up the imagination to more game theory and informed supposition offers guidance on what’s possibly over the horizon. It can help explain why exactly President Trump keeps forcefully backing his train-wrecked SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh — to the point where he’s openly frat-hazing his female accusers — and it can help break down why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to “plow right through” Kavanaugh’s nomination. Here are several reasons for that level of gutsy and seemingly wreckless back-up that help illustrate what’s happening here, but what we’re not hearing. Because, to conservatives, the Supreme Court is the most powerful governing institution in the land.
SUPREME COURT JUSTICES ARE CONSERVATIVE SUPER HEROES
Pick the right one who’s willing to bend American jurisprudence to the ideological will of the right, and conservatives are generally just fine with Republicans losing seats (and possibly chambers) in the process, and perhaps a generation or two of women. And if it’s anything conservatives love to do, it’s use the Court to full political and culture war advantage. A 6–3 majority on the High Court is so close that they taste that.
If it’s one thing that motivates conservative activists and voters, it’s the composition of the Supreme Court. Nothing else matters as much.
That fact is not registering among mainstream journalists and pundits — or they’re just casually ignoring it out of wedlock to conventional wisdom because it’s much more fun to do so. That’s also not registering among Democrats, who think they’ve easily found a much easier way (than working for votes) to unseat a nomination and recapture the Senate.
But, Senate Republicans, along with rank-and-file party loyalists, and the president do recognize this. Conservatives themselves are not shying away from letting Republicans know that if they ditch Kavanaugh, they will stay home this election. “Why vote for a Republican to get nothing out of it?” was The Federalist’s Joy Pullman in a recent tweet.
The logic for them: Getting a locked lifetime appointed majority in the Judicial branch — from the High Court to all those lower federal courts — provides a solid buffer against impending demographic change and shifting political winds that don’t ensure Congressional and other majorities. If the 2000 presidential election taught us anything, as well, it’s that a conservative court can also help you fix elections, too. You can still sacrifice your bishop, rook and even your knight, so long as you get to keep your queen … who keeps that king alive.
IT STILL WORKS OUT FOR REPUBLICANS … OR, AT LEAST, CONSERVATIVES
Keep Kavanaugh or ditch Kavanaugh and get someone else less tainted to “plow through,” even after Election Day, and both Republicans and conservatives get what they’ve worked years toward: a super majority on the Supreme Court. And, don’t forget: that 6–3 conservative High Court is complimented by stacks of conservative federal lower court judges that Democrats haven’t stopped, yet — nor shown any inclination to do so (in the same way Republicans stalled up President Obama’s federal and SCOTUS picks).
Force Kavanaugh to withdraw or force a vote that wounds up in defeat and have Trump pick someone else, that’s not stopping the process. McConnell is not only forcing a vote to “plow through” Kavanaugh — he’s also setting the stage to rush this vote and leave enough time open for the president to pick someone else.
Detractors keep pointing out November 6th as if 1) Democrats will win and 2) Senate Republicans will have their majority magically disappear on November 7th. Lame duck Senate Republicans and a politically wounded president can move it through by end of December (perhaps even holding a government shutdown threat over Democrats’ heads to get that done). If they still have control of the Senate, even better for them — and, yes, they feel as if there is a chance to not just maintain the Senate, but to pick up a few more seats in the process.
If Kavanaugh were to resign or he’s voted out, Republicans can hold off conservative dissent by merely picking a less troubled, but acceptable nominee and going into it again. That can galvanize conservative voters heading into November 6th because they love trench warfare over SCOTUS nominees. A vote on November 6th will be viewed as a proud defensive maneuver against Democrats — and an Obama “deep state” — trying to steal their High Court fantasy. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, architect of modern GOP political revolution, put it recently: “If the left stops Kavanaugh, we will never get another Supreme Court justice in our lifetime.” The fear of that will trigger conservative voters into action. It’s not like Democrats stopped that last troubled conservative nominee who was riddled with sexual harassment allegations: Clarence Thomas. In fact, they were in charge at the time. So, expect Republicans to continue out-gaming their opposition.
CONTRARY TO WHAT YOU HEARD, NOT ALL WOMEN VOTE EQUALLY
Yes: it’s safe to say that most women are not happy with Republicans over the Kavanaugh nomination. But, it’s not safe to assume that all women are voting that way. There’s already a rush to decide that “suburban moms” (a.k.a. “white women”) are all in against Kavanaugh.
But, women aren’t monolithic — least of all white women voters. We should’ve learned that from 2016. Daily Reuters/Ipsos polling data show 37 percent of women overall opposed, but 24 percent support Kavanaugh (even after all that) and 38 percent actually “don’t know.” For white women, an equal amount, 31 percent, either support or oppose the beleaguered nominee while 42 percent “don’t know.”
And in the most recent YouGov/Economist data, a range of 24 percent to 37 percent of women overall don’t believe the allegations of sexual assault disqualify Kavanaugh, don’t believe the incident happened, believe Kavanaugh, don’t believe main accuser Christine Blasey Ford, and want the confirmation to happen. That’s fairly stable from the previous week’s poll as the allegations first surfaced. Even with women against Kavanaugh by a 10 to 17 percent margin, as this Fox News poll shows, there are still enough women for Kavanaugh to give Republicans the impression they have a little room to wiggle.
ARE REPUBLICAN VOTERS REALLY ALL THAT UNHAPPY WITH KAVANAUGH?
In one answer: not really. That same Fox News poll above shows GOP support at 80 percent, and just several percentage points below where it was at the time of his nomination’s announcement. There’s a fewer more GOP voters who are voting this midterm based on whether a candidate supports him or not than Democrats. White voter support, most of them Republican, is actually rising to 40 percent from a low of 30 percent at the end of August, according to Reuters/Ipsos — that same poll shows more than 67 percent GOP voter support for Kavanaugh. And there’s actually about a combined 55 percent of support from very, lean to moderately conservative voters.
Ultimately, conservative voters turn out for midterm elections in ways that traditional Democratic Party voters don’t. They understand the power of Senate composition in shaping the Supreme Court they want. Democrats have not yet mastered how to telegraph the enormity of Supreme Court selections to their base voters. Everyone keeps talking about the enthusiasm gap and how Democrats have a “Blue Wave” edge, but few are talking about the civic literacy gap that Republicans presently own.
IGNORE THOSE NATIONAL POLLS — TAKE A LOOK INTO CONTESTED STATES
Republicans are watching the state of key Senate races in places they can potentially flip like Florida, Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia and Texas. These are states with pockets of conservative voters that can get motivated by a battle over a Supreme Court vacancy.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is, according to RealClearPolitics averages, ahead by only 9 points. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is ahead by just 3 points, his average is dropping. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) just spiked ahead by barely 1 point. Sen. Mike Donnelly (D-IN) is just 2 points ahead. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is down by nearly 2 points.
In Texas, a large state Republicans want to hold so bad that they’re pouring all kinds of resources into hated Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the incumbent is ahead by nearly 5 points. And a recent Quinnipiac poll shows a majority of Texas voters, 54 percent, want to see Kavanaugh confirmed, including 60 percent of Texas women and 60 percent of Texas whites.
Recent internal GOP polling also shows favorable pro-Kavanaugh margins. There’s a 21-point support margin in West Virginia, including a 10 percent pro-Kavanaugh margin among women. We also find a pro-Kavanaugh margin of 25 points in North Dakota.
Basically, Republicans are seeing they’ve got wiggle room with women voters and their own grassroots voters. Hence, they feel they still have enough control over the landscape to press ahead into political inferno, allegations and all.
CHARLES D. ELLISON is a veteran political strategist and Host of “Reality Check” on WURD radio (Philadelphia), as well as Managing Editor of ecoWURD. He is also Contributor to the Philadelphia Citizen and Principal/Chief Strategist of B|E Strategy. Reach him via Twitter @ellisonreport