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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Red State Dems Mull Kavanaugh Strategy

In his New York Times column, “What the Kavanaugh Accusations Mean for Red-State Democrats” Michael Tomasky discusses several plausible scenarios that could affect the outcome of the hearings for the midterm elections, as well as for Trump’s nominee. As Tomasky writes,

A view seems to have taken hold in Washington that the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford have let red-state Senate Democrats off the hook. These Democrats — chiefly Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the three Democrats who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch in April 2017 — all face re-election in just seven weeks in states where President Trump is popular, and where majorities presumably would support Judge Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court.

But now, some say, the allegations against the nominee provide reason enough for them to vote no. Jim Manley, a former longtime Democratic Senate aide who knows these matters well, told Reuters on Tuesday: “For those Democrats up for re-election from states that Trump carried, they now have absolutely no reason to vote for Kavanaugh. Period. End of story. They have all the cover they need.” Several talking heads on cable news said much the same thing Tuesday.

I’m not sure it’s that simple. Assuming Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is not withdrawn and the Republicans continue to fight for him, these three Democrats and possibly one or two others will still find themselves in a tough position. In fact, if a couple of Republicans defect from Judge Kavanaugh, these Democrats will be in an even tougher spot than before.

But even if two Republicans, say Collins and Murkowski, turn against Kavanaugh, “At that point, Republicans, far from accepting defeat, will surely start aiming fire at the three Democrats. Their opponents will taunt them about Judge Kavanaugh on the campaign trail.” It’s possible that these Democrats may see little to lose by voting for Kavanaugh.

Tomasky presents a more appealing scenario for Democrats:

Now imagine a second scenario. Imagine that Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski vote no, but this time they are joined by two other Republicans, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Now, Judge Kavanaugh is down to 47 votes. And more important, the air will be out of his balloon, emotionally. At that point, I think the three Democrats will be fully off the hook.

That’s a plausible scenario, but not the one Tomasky sees as most likely:

And, of course, there’s a third scenario (at least!), which I discussed here earlier, and it’s probably still the most likely one. All 51 Republicans stand pat, in which case some Democrats will go ahead and confirm Judge Kavanaugh. But their votes won’t matter. Whether you got 51 votes or 55 or 100, they still call you Mr. Associate Justice.

It’s not hard to see how much depends on Maine and Alaska voters who are against Kavanaugh making their voices heard. Of course, there are other plausible scenarios, including the possibility that more revelations about Kavanaugh emerge, providing the red state Democratic senators with even more cover.

Part of the calculus for all U.S. Senators has to be the potentially explosive power of the ‘Me Too’ movement. Ditto for the strong pro-Democratic voter enthusiasm trend among educated women, which will surely play a major role in the midterm elections, even in red states.

And let’s not forget all of the other arguments against Kavanaugh, including a key point that red state Democrats could amplify to good effect — Kavanaugh’s record of opposing worker rights against employer abuse at every opportunity that came his way.

In the end, however, the red state Democrats will have to answer key questions of conscience that will bear on their legacies, including: ‘Should my vote give Kavanaugh a pass on the serious allegations made by a credible woman?’ Also, ‘should I give Trump and the Republicans a rubber stamp on the Supreme Court that would adversely impact working people for decades?’

If being a Democrat means anything at all, the answer is no.

One comment on “Red State Dems Mull Kavanaugh Strategy

  1. pjcamp on

    Flake and Corker are not going to vote no.

    They want just enough of an investigation to fix their PR problem but not so much as to find out the truth. For them as well as the rest of the party, overturning Roe v. Wade has a higher priority that keeping a potential rapist off the court.


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