Kavanaugh fight stirs up the right
The dust has more or less settled from the Kavanaugh confirmation battle, but we will feel its effects for some time to come. It will take an entire term of the Supreme Court to begin to assess the impact of Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the court itself, but the political consequences are more immediate and tangible.
The retirement of Anthony Kennedy, which set in motion the events of the past two months, has been long anticipated by both left and right. Because of the centrality of the Supreme Court to the political process, there was every expectation that the fight to fill his vacancy would be a battle for the ages. In that regard, it did not disappoint.
Prior to Kavanaugh, Democrats were more enthusiastic and more likely to vote in the midterms than Republicans by a substantial margin. This created what pollsters call an “enthusiasm gap.” But Democrats had already achieved “peak energy” for this election. The Kavanaugh confirmation did not significantly increase their anger, which is driven by hostility to President Trump.
For Republicans, the confirmation fight energized the base and beyond. The histrionics of the opposition to Kavanagh unified and motivated Republicans as nothing else could do. It brought back into the Republican fold Trumpskeptic voters, whose enthusiasm for the administration has never been strong. Remember that for nearly 20 percent of the voters in 2016, the filling of Supreme Court vacancies was the principal reason they voted for Trump.
The confirmation battle energized the base on both sides, but Republicans had more room for upward movement and so have increased their enthusiasm relative to the Democrats. This “Kavanaugh bounce” shows up in the current polling which has Republican senate candidate moving ahead in their races, across the country.
The Senate races are different from the House races. The competitive Senate races are taking place in Trumpfriendly states. The competitive House races are taking place in Trump-skeptic suburban seats. There, the votes of Republican women will determine the outcome.
Will they vote in sympathy with the #MeToo movement or will they pass judgment, as Judge Kavanaugh suggested in his opening statement, “as they would want their fathers, husbands and sons" judged?
In Tennessee, the Kavanaugh effect is already apparent. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who was barely holding her own against former Gov. Phil Bredesen, has moved into a substantial lead. The Fox News poll which showed Blackburn with two-point lead two weeks ago, now has her up by five points. The CBS News poll has her up by 8 and Siena Research has her up by 14.
As predicted in this column a month ago, Bredesen cynically waited until the votes for Kavanaugh were set and his position did not matter before announcing his support for confirmation. Not until Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine made their positions clear, did Bredesen dare to come out of hiding to announce his support of Kavanaugh.
This has angered some on the left. The moderate Republicans whose votes he needs are not that easily fooled. His stand would have been courageous had it been taken in September, but it is an obvious ploy when announced after the outcome is known.
The question going into the last few weeks before the election is whether the anger generated by the Kavanaugh confirmation fight will translate into votes. How long can we, as Americans, stay mad at each other? My guess is that both sides can hold that anger at least until Nov. 6.
John Ryder is a Memphis attorney, with Harris Shelton, who serves as Chairman of the Republican National Lawyers Association. He previously served as General Counsel to the Republican National Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.