Brett bounce? Con­fir­ma­tion bat­tle may have huge ef­fect on midterm vot­ing

The Guardian Weekly - - The big story - By Tom Mc­Carthy WASH­ING­TON

Even be­fore Brett Ka­vanaugh was con­firmed, sto­ries emerged about how Repub­li­can voter en­thu­si­asm had spiked in out­rage over the treat­ment of the supreme court nom­i­nee.

The “Brett bounce”, as po­lit­i­cal news web­site Ax­ios chris­tened it, an­tic­i­pat­ing a po­ten­tial wind­fall point or two for Repub­li­cans in Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions. Slate no­ticed that Repub­li­can women in par­tic­u­lar seemed to be in­vig­o­rated by Ka­vanaugh’s tribu­la­tions at the hands of Se­nate Democrats. McClatchy spoke with three Repub­li­can poll­sters: all re­ported soar­ing en­thu­si­asm among GOP re­spon­dents af­ter months of ap­a­thy and malaise.

For pro­gres­sives, the news set off ev­ery alarm. Anger that Dr Chris­tine Blasey Ford’s al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault had been slighted. Dis­tress that any­one could re­act to her tes­ti­mony – and to the petu­lance of Ka­vanaugh’s re­sponse – that way. Anx­i­ety that the midterms could be squan­dered. Panic about a clas­sic Demo­cratic own-goal. Anger again at the ef­fort to si­lence and pun­ish Ford.

A week ear­lier, Ka­vanaugh had been dragged, metaphor­i­cally kick­ing and lit­er­ally scream­ing, through hours of ques­tions about the Ford al­le­ga­tions and other al­leged con­duct. In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math, most, in­clud­ing Don­ald Trump, de­clared Ford to be cred­i­ble.

But Ka­vanaugh called it “a cal­cu­lated and or­ches­trated po­lit­i­cal hit”, fu­elled by a de­sire for “re­venge on be­half of the Clin­tons

The midterms are still a month away. That is a long time

and mil­lions of dol­lars in money from out­side left­wing op­po­si­tion groups”.

It was the same lan­guage of griev­ance and vic­tim­hood – at the hands of China, or im­mi­grants, or trade agree­ments, or Barack Obama, or the rigged sys­tem, or in­deed the Clin­tons – that Trump used so flu­ently to har­ness a wave of po­lit­i­cal sup­port in 2016. And,

ap­par­ently, core Repub­li­can vot­ers still re­sponded to it. A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll re­leased last Wed­nes­day showed them up to about even with the Democrats.

“The re­sult of the [Ka­vanaugh] hear­ings, at least in the short run, is the Repub­li­can base was awak­ened,” said Marist di­rec­tor Lee Miringoff.

But is the Brett bounce real – or does it look more like a bub­ble?

It is im­por­tant to note that the midterms are still a month away. In pol­i­tics, that’s a very long time.

FiveThir­tyEight founder and an­a­lyst Nate Sil­ver wrote that there ap­peared to be a sig­nal in the polling noise, but it was kind of weak.

“There is truth in the idea that Repub­li­cans have had a de­cent week of polling, but it can also be ex­ag­ger­ated by cherry-pick­ing data that’s con­sis­tent with a par­tic­u­lar nar­ra­tive,” he wrote.

In short, Sil­ver said that dur­ing the hear­ings Demo­cratic se­na­tor Heidi Heitkamp’s re-elec­tion bid looked to have suf­fered in North Dakota, where Ka­vanaugh is pop­u­lar. That could di­min­ish the Demo­cratic chances of tak­ing the Se­nate from the 25% base­line to some­where closer to one in five.

In House races, Sil­ver wrote, Repub­li­cans ap­peared to be do­ing bet­ter than a week ago but worse than a month ago. “District-level polls have gen­er­ally been get­ting worse for Repub­li­cans, even if na­tional in­di­ca­tors have sta­bilised or im­proved slightly,” he said.

With both Repub­li­can se­na­tor Su­san Collins and Demo­cratic se­na­tor Joe Manchin an­nounc­ing that they in­tended to vote for Ka­vanaugh, that ag­grieved party looks un­likely to be the Repub­li­cans. Shortly af­ter the dou­ble an­nounce­ment, vet­eran GOP strate­gist John Weaver tweeted: “Folks, com­ing to an elec­tion near you: a gi­ant blue wave.”

Maybe. Many Democrats feel the stakes in the Ka­vanaugh con­fir­ma­tion fight were higher than the stakes in the midterms. The con­fir­ma­tion of Ka­vanaugh could po­ten­tially have more im­por­tant im­pli­ca­tions for longer.

The po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­lus, in other words, is com­pli­cated and opaque. Ka­vanaugh is a supreme court jus­tice. The elec­tion is on 6 Novem­ber.

SHAWN THEW/EPA

Mr Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh takes the oath of of­fice

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