It’s still early, and the news and politics cycles move quickly, but there are at least five signs that the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court has encouraged some Democrats and their allies to double down on political malpractice.
1) Cutting Off Their Nose. Even before the final vote, two outside groups pulled their support for two Democrats in tight races who had expressed support for Kavanaugh. Move On.org and the deep-pocketed super PAC Priorities USA announced they were ex-communicating Senator Joe Manchin and Tennessee Democratic hopeful Phil Bredesen. The practical effects of bailing on the two Senate races may be limited, since neither group had actually been spending much money in either state, but the impulse to put ideological purity over the practical politics of winning back the Senate was striking.
The odds continue to strongly favor the GOP maintaining control of the upper house, (the SwingSeat model gives Republicans a 75.7 percent chance of holding the Senate) but if the Democrats lose in West Virginia and Tennessee, their chances for winning control drop to near zero.
2) Avenatti-ism. It turns out that elevating a celebrity porn star’s lawyer to media/political influence is not a sound strategy after all. Worse may be coming.
Observers across the political spectrum marveled at the damage that Michael Avenatti did last week to the Democrats’ efforts to derail Kavanaugh, when he came forward with lurid allegations that the judge may have been involved in gang rapes. The story fell apart almost immediately, but the political impact was real. The New York Times's Peter Baker tweeted:
Avenatti's involvement proved a turning point, according to congressional aides from both parties. It was "manna from heaven," says a GOP aide. "Massively unhelpful," says a Democrat. "A bunch of nonsense," retorts Avenatti. @npfandos https://t.co/Cbncn6l4fC— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) October 7, 2018
The Times described Avenatti’s political vandalism:
The tide seemed to turn, oddly enough, when a third woman emerged with even more extreme allegations. Michael Avenatti, a brash and media savvy California lawyer who has been careening from one Trump administration brush fire to another, produced a statement from a woman alleging that Judge Kavanaugh in high school attended parties where women were gang raped. The woman, Julie Swetnick, said she was herself gang raped at one such party, though not by the judge….
The involvement of Mr. Avenatti, who represents Stephanie Clifford, the former porn star known as Stormy Daniels, particularly galvanized Republicans, reinforcing the idea that the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh were a political setup. One Republican congressional official called Mr. Avenatti’s involvement “manna from heaven.” From the other side, a Democratic congressional official called it “massively unhelpful.”
Even so, Avenatti still has a constituency beyond cable television green rooms, among Democrats who like the fact that “he fights.” In other words, he has become the Democrats’ Donald Trump, mirroring his penchant for self-promotion, his disdain for truth, and his willingness to engage in below-the-belt pugilism.
Those have proven attractive qualities to elements of the party who think that Democrats need to escalate their tactics. On a cable show over the weekend, Hawaii’s Democratic senator, Maisie Hirono, was asked about protesters who were harassing senators in restaurants and at home. “This is what happens,” she said. That brought a quick reply by Peter Wehner, who saw where this was going:
It may be "what happens" but it'd be helpful if you'd speak against it on the grounds that it's wrong/may lead to violence. It looks like people like Sen. Hirono, who despise the party of Trump, are becoming the party of Avenatti. "Down and dirty we go" appears to be their credo. https://t.co/xvDe2OQJCU— Peter Wehner (@Peter_Wehner) October 8, 2018
There’s a distinction—a rather important one—between fighting hard and fighting dumb. But it’s not clear that the Democrats have figured that out quite yet.
3) Apocalypse Now. In 2016, some Republicans decided to think of the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as a “Flight 93 Election.” (Since we’re all going to die, we might as well storm the cockpit.) Some Democrats seem to have decided that 2018 is the “Handmaid’s Tale” election. Overwrought rhetoric abounds.
On MSNBC, AbovetheLaw.com editor Elie Mystal declared that Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court could usher in “1,000-year Reich.”
And so it went.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Alexis Grenell declared that Republican women were “gender traitors, to borrow a term from the dystopian TV series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’” The Kavanaugh vote, she insisted, was not merely about gender, however, it was also about race. “ This blood pact between white men and white women is at issue in the November midterms.”
Jonah Goldberg responded:
It would be monumentally and immorally stupid for Democratic politicians to let this dangerously ridiculous piece influence their rhetoric and platform. So chances they will? At least 50-50. https://t.co/O75Skmos6H— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) October 7, 2018
4) Impeaching Kavanaugh. Polls suggest that Kavanaugh remains unpopular, but that hardly means that the public will have any appetite for investigating and impeaching a judge who hasn’t even had a chance to put up pictures on his chamber walls.
Until now, calmer heads have cautioned against premature discussions of impeaching Trump if Democrats win the House. But senior Democrats apparently couldn’t help themselves from waving the bloody shirt over Kavanaugh.
WASHINGTON—House Democrats will open an investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct and perjury against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh if they win control of the House in November, Representative Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat in line to be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on Friday.
Speaking on the eve of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote this weekend, Mr. Nadler said that there was evidence that Senate Republicans and the F.B.I. had overseen a “whitewash” investigation of the allegations and that the legitimacy of the Supreme Court was at stake. He sidestepped the issue of impeachment.
The GOP still enjoys a modest Kavanaugh bump and this kind of talk will only amplify it.
5) Complaining About the Constitution. Some Democrats have discovered that the U.S. Senate is, well, undemocratic because a minority of voters can choose a majority of senators. That, of course, is the way it was designed. Ditto the Electoral College.
Peevish objections about the unfairness of it all, however, ignore the fact that the small states who benefit from equal-representation in the Senate are most unlikely to approve the constitutional amendment required to change things. So, it sounds more like whining than a winning strategy.