Ka­vanaugh de­ba­cle cost Dems dearly

Marc A. Thiessen says the hor­rific treat­ment of the nom­i­nee dur­ing con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings back­fired big time.

Houston Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER - Fol­low Thiessen on Twit­ter, @marc­thiessen.

Brett Ka­vanaugh must have been smil­ing as the re­turns came in on Elec­tion Day, be­cause it is now clear that the Democrats’ cam­paign to de­stroy him will go down as a mas­sive blun­der. It failed to keep Ka­vanaugh off the court. It cost Democrats their chance to re­gain con­trol of the Se­nate. And it gave Repub­li­cans an ex­panded Se­nate ma­jor­ity that will al­low them to con­firm an even more con­ser­va­tive jus­tice next time around.

To­day, Ka­vanaugh sits on the Supreme Court hear­ing cases. Mean­while, Demo­cratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, N.D., Joe Don­nelly, Ind., and Claire McCaskill, Mo., are packing up their Se­nate of­fices — thrown out by vot­ers fu­ri­ous over their party’s bru­tal cam­paign of char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion against Ka­vanaugh. Sen. Joe Manchin, W.Va., was the only Demo­crat who voted for Ka­vanaugh, and he sur­vived — but just barely. Two weeks be­fore Elec­tion Day, Manchin was lead­ing by dou­ble dig­its, but on Tues­day night he won by just over three points. Had he voted against Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion, he would likely have been toast as well.

The Democrats’ smear cam­paign also cost them the chance to pick up GOP seats. In Ten­nessee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn was trail­ing for­mer Demo­cratic gover­nor Phil Bre­desen by five points in a CNN poll be­fore the Ka­vanaugh hear­ings. She ended up win­ning by just un­der 11 points, as the Democrats’ mis­treat­ment of Ka­vanaugh united Ten­nessee Repub­li­cans be­hind her. The Ka­vanaugh smear no doubt also played a role in en­er­giz­ing GOP vot­ers in Ari­zona, where Repub­li­can Rep. Martha McSally ap­pears to have squeezed out a nar­row vic­tory, and in Texas, where Sen. Ted Cruz de­feated Rep. Beto O’Rourke by just 2.6 points in one of the red­dest states in the union.

None of that might have been pos­si­ble had it not been for the Democrats’ hor­rific treat­ment of Ka­vanaugh. As Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell put it, the failed ef­fort to stop Ka­vanaugh was “like an adren­a­line shot” for the GOP base. Repub­li­can vot­ers were out­raged to see a good man ac­cused, with­out a shred of cor­rob­o­ra­tion, of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a teenage girl, ex­pos­ing him­self to a col­lege class­mate and par­tic­i­pat­ing in gang rapes in high school. They were dis­gusted by Se­nate Democrats’ in­sis­tence that the bur­den was on Ka­vanaugh to prove he didn’t do it and by Democrats’ bla­tant dis­re­gard for the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence. They were en­er­gized by Ka­vanaugh’s will­ing­ness to fight back and de­clare his treat­ment by Democrats a “na­tional dis­grace.” And they pun­ished the per­pe­tra­tors of that dis­grace at the polls on Tues­day.

Now Repub­li­cans have not only an ex­panded Se­nate ma­jor­ity but also a pro-life ma­jor­ity. Re­ports in­di­cated that Trump was close to nom­i­nat­ing Judge Amy Coney Bar­rett, a de­vout Catholic and mother of seven, to re­place re­tir­ing Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy. Bar­rett be­came a folk hero among re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives af­ter Diane Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia, rank­ing Demo­crat on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, grilled her over her Catholic faith dur­ing her con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings as a judge on the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 7th Cir­cuit last year. “The dogma lives loudly within you,” Fe­in­stein told Bar­rett, sug­gest­ing that her faith dis­qual­i­fied her. That out­raged con­ser­va­tives, who rightly cas­ti­gated Fe­in­stein for ap­ply­ing an un­con­sti­tu­tional re­li­gious test on Trump’s nom­i­nee. As Har­vard Law School pro­fes­sor Noah Feld­man ex­plained, Fe­in­stein “in­sin­u­ated an anti-Catholic stereo­type that goes back at least 150 years in the U.S. — that Catholics are un­able to sep­a­rate church and state be­cause they place their re­li­gious al­le­giances be­fore their oath to the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

Bar­rett was con­firmed for the Cir­cuit Court. But when it came to the Supreme Court, Trump cal­cu­lated that with a ra­zor thin-GOP ma­jor­ity he needed what was sup­posed to be a safer pick and went with Ka­vanaugh in­stead. Now, with an ex­panded, pro-life Se­nate ma­jor­ity, Trump no longer has to worry about los­ing a few GOP votes next time around.

At ev­ery stage of re­cent Supreme Court fights, Democrats have mis­cal­cu­lated. Their mind­less de­ci­sion to fil­i­buster Neil Gor­such paved the way for Se­nate Repub­li­cans to get rid of the fil­i­buster for Supreme Court nom­i­nees — which made it pos­si­ble to con­firm Ka­vanaugh by sim­ple ma­jor­ity. And if Bar­rett ever makes it onto the Supreme Court, Democrats can thank their hor­rific, defam­a­tory treat­ment of Ka­vanaugh.

The les­son for Democrats should be clear: Char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion does not pay. Quite the op­po­site, it back­fired — big-time.

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