1. Kavanaugh and the power of two
A week in politics can feel like a lifetime – and last week was no exception. The fierce urgency of Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to the Senate; the vehemence of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s denials; the issues of sexual violence, recognition and acknowledgment, justice, and #MeToo.
Can Kavanagh get to 51 votes in a Senate with precisely 51 Republicans? There are two Republican women – not on the Senate Judiciary Committee – whose votes are not declared: Murkowski of Alaska and Collins of Maine. There are reports of intense constituency pressures on both senators from voters at home, and not only on issues like Roe v. Wade. Together with Senator Jeff Flake they had complete leverage on whether Kavanaugh would get to a final vote this week – no matter what Trump and McConnell wanted. So, it was either do the FBI investigation, or face a defeat. That power of two will hold until a final vote is taken.
2. The issue of judicial temperament has now superseded the issue of judicial ideology
The objective of cementing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court – a bedrock Republican goal for more than 40 years – is, with Kavanaugh, both within reach and further away than when he was nominated by Trump. On a day of the rawest, ugliest partisan divisiveness, what came through loud and clear was Kavanaugh’s blistering attack on the Democrats: "This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”
Longtime Supreme Court observers have never seen such a partisan posture before in a nominee. Notwithstanding Kavanaugh’s vaunted legal experience – which certainly qualifies him to sit on the Court – issues of temperament and character are now in the forefront of weighing whether the Senate should consent to this nomination, and they are no less important to reaching a final judgement.
3. What kind of Republican is Kavanaugh?
His pedigree is George W. Bush. Team Bush extended the warmest accolades when he was nominated. But it is now clear that Kavanaugh, like most of the Republican Party, has devolved into becoming a Trump Republican, and has embraced the Trump playbook on character issues. From Bob Woodward’s FEAR: Inside The Trump White House, from a source quoting Trump’s words: “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny, and push back on these women. If you admit to anything, and any culpability – you’re dead… You’ve got to deny anything that’s said bout you. Never admit.”
The White House was reportedly in despair after Dr Ford’s testimony in the committee, and feared Kavanaugh would have to be withdrawn. But Trump could not have been happier after Kavanaugh’s wielding the sword of the Trump doctrine of denial, and what it did to resurrect his nomination.
4. This week’s cautionary tale
Be careful of who you endorse for the Senate. In Alabama, Trump was not satisfied with Luther Strange, who was appointed to the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, when Sessions became Attorney General. In the special election to properly fill the seat, Strange was challenged by Roy Moore, a Trump firebrand. Trump went with Moore over the incumbent Strange. As the campaign progressed, Moore was accused of intimacies with teenage girls – serious charges that irreparably damaged his campaign.
In ruby-red Alabama, Moore was beaten by Democrat Doug Jones – an astonishing result. And that meant that Trump lost the chance to maintain a 52-48 Republican majority; it slipped to 51-49. This meant he lost the chance to win the vote on Kavanaugh – even if Collins and Murkowski voted “No”. That was a high price to pay for Trumpian loyalty.