All in all, the Democrats are playing the Kavanaugh confirmation as well as can be expected. Even better. Will that stop him? I still think the odds of confirmation are in the Republicans’ favor. Those odds, however, have greatly diminished in the last 24 hours. And at the same time, what the Democrats might extract from this affair, once everything is said and done, has increased. I think that’s worth talking about.
Things could have gone in a different direction. Evidently, Dianne Feinstein did not intend to report the letter sent to her by Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, to the FBI. It was only at the behest of the other nine Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee that she did. Feinstein, being of an octogenarian, would probably have sat on the letter, honoring the author’s request for anonymity. But younger Democrats saw a political opportunity. Mazie Hirono (who, at 70, is far from young; but half of the others are) told NPR Monday they urged her to report the letter.
That’s when all this burst into the light. Mitch McConnell keeps saying the Democrats leaked the letter. (Some news media keep parroting the claim.) They didn’t. Ford came forward on her own after Feinstein said she had the letter, and that she reported it. All of the above alone is evidence of this not being your father’s Democratic Party.
It’s your mother’s.
I’m guessing these Democrats know the FBI is not going to find anything about an alleged crime that took place more than three decades ago. But that’s not the point, politically. The point is slowing down a rushed confirmation process, to push it as close to the midterms as possible, perhaps to the point that President Trump abandons Kavanaugh, by demanding credibly that a full, fair and impartial investigation take place. Even the wily Schumer, whom many on the left are quick to damn for being, well, wily, said Monday on the Senate floor that these are “serious and credible” allegations and that an investigation must be done by “an independent body.”
Even if the Democrats had leaked the letter, I doubt anyone would have faulted them. (Indeed, few seriously faulted them when they leaked damning emails suggesting that Kavanaugh didn’t think Roe was settled law after the Supreme Court nominee had said under oath that it was indeed settled law.) The old Democrats would have played the game more like Feinstein did with Ford’s letter—strictly by the book. But these Democrats are playing a smarter game. If “the book” helps make a strong case against Kavanaugh, fine. If it doesn’t, then these Democrats are getting creative*.
They are starting to see reward for their effort. In the beginning, the very best they could have hoped for was somehow cementing in the public’s mind that Kavanaugh was tainted—tainted by a rushed confirmation process, by his own record of mendacity, by his unwillingness to recuse himself, formally, if Donald Trump’s attorneys demand the court decide whether a sitting president can be indicted.
If they could cement this idea in the public’s mind, the Democrats would have somewhere to go once—and I have no doubt about this—some states passed laws overnight banning abortion, laws the court’s conservatives will uphold. That was pretty much all the Democrats could have hoped for. They don’t have the numbers to block Kavanaugh. Red-state Democrats, not wanting to appear outright defiant of a president’s right to name Supreme Court’s justices, were most likely to favor Kavanaugh. But now, all of a sudden, the winds of change are a-blowing.
Now, the Democrats might get two things if the president insists Kavanaugh is his man (conservative groups bent on overturning Roe have vowed to punish Republicans if Kavanaugh isn’t). One, the Democrats might have the votes to stop Kavanaugh. Doug Jones, the Alabama Democrat, said if allegations against him are true, that would be disqualifying. To translate: red-state Democrats like Jones can’t vote no because they don’t like Kavanaugh. Their constituents won’t accept that. They need cover. In this era of #MeToo, Jones, who has women to thank for his new job, has that.
The other thing Democrats might get out of this is even better, electorally speaking. They will lose the high court for a generation if Kavanaugh is confirmed, but they might win the Congress for just as long. Imagine the impact of televised hearings of Christine Blasey Ford, about the most intimate of intimate histories, by a panel of old men. Even if they are as pleasant as punch, the visuals alone will be affecting. We already see a women-powered blue wave coming. Old men casting doubt on a women’s integrity won’t just pour gas on the fire. It will carpet bomb an inferno.
What incentive do the Democrats have to play by the book anyway?
Sticking to norms doesn’t help when the opposition dishonors them. McConnell, as you know, would not hold hearings for Barack Obama’s nominee, stealing a president’s right to influence the high court. Once you deny that right, you can’t expect that right to be respected in return. Yes, this might be a downward spiral, a threat to our democratic republic. But until both parties mourn for death of norms, one party can’t be expected to honor them while the other dances on their grave.
Indeed, you could hear an enormous collective shrug after the Majority Leader complained Monday on the Senate floor about the “irregular manner” of the “sometimes bizarre innuendo” of the Ford allegations. McConnell’s appeal to “regular order” and “standard practice” in order to avoid interruptions at “the eleventh hour” fell on deaf hears. I wonder if even his fellow Republicans took him seriously.
What would a panel of old Republican men say to Christine Blasey Ford that would send even more women to the polls on Election Day? Consider the following from today’s Wall Street Journal. In an unsigned editorial, the newspaper said:
"This is simply too distant and uncorroborated a story to warrant a new hearing or to delay a vote. We've heard from all three principals, and there are no other witnesses to call. Democrats will use Monday's hearing as a political spectacle to coax Mr. Kavanaugh into looking defensive or angry, and to portray Republicans as anti-women. Odds are it will be a circus."
The Republicans don’t understand something vital. Even though this may sound reasonable, it has another reasonable meaning to lots and lots of women, and that meaning goes something like this: none of this is all that important.
As I said before, lots of women are running for offices high and low, because, I think, they saw what happened to the most qualified candidate of the 2016 election, and said to themselves: that’s wrong, that’s so wrong I’m going to do something about it.
Given that the president is who he is, it’s hard to imagine strong women having more reason to take democracy into their own hands. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe if you humiliate a woman on national television for having the guts to come forward about a sexual crime no one took seriously 30 years ago, there might be even more reason.
What do you get for $5 a month? One edition sent to your inbox every day by 2 p.m.
That’s five a week! More than 20 editions a month!
The Editorial Board is for normal people trying to understand politics.
No ads. No sponsors. No “both sides.” Just straight talk straight to you.
Please subscribe today! —John Stoehr