The GOP Can’t Win for Losing

A Kavanaugh defeat would demoralize the Republican base, not energize it.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill, Sept. 4.
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill, Sept. 4. PHOTO: CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS


As the battle over Brett Kavanaugh rages on, pundits continue to speculate about what an unproven sexual-misconduct claim might mean for the future makeup of the Supreme Court, for subsequent nominations and for the credibility of the #MeToo movement.

In the halls of Capitol Hill, the question centers on a much more immediate and political question: the fate of the Republican Party. The overwhelming verdict—on right and left—is that if Judge Kavanaugh goes down, so too does the GOP in the upcoming midterms.

For now, the distinguished circuit-court judge is on track for confirmation. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has handled Christine Blasey Ford’s 36-year-old accusation with enormous accommodation, inviting her to give evidence in any manner of her choosing—a public or private hearing, in Washington or California, in person or over the phone. Her decision to join with partisan Democratic calls for an FBI investigation, and her refusal to provide testimony in any form for a Monday hearing, has troubled Republican senators who insisted she be heard.

Tennessee’s Bob Corker put the point clearly in a tweet on Monday: “Republicans extended a hand in good faith. If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote.” Even undecided Republican senators understand the Democratic playbook and appreciate how unjust it would be to allow a vague, uncorroborated claim to derail Judge Kavanaugh’s career and reputation—especially if his accuser won’t even put her claims in the Senate record.

But with Democrats and their media allies stopping at nothing to derail this nomination, even confident Republicans have been forced to consider the prospect of a defeat. A few GOP optimists, inside and outside the White House, are spreading the claim that a Kavanaugh loss could have a midterm upside. The argument: Candidates would light up the base by highlighting Democrats’ ambush tactics. President Trump would name a new nominee, and voters would rush to the polls to guarantee a GOP Senate and an ultimate confirmation.

And then a flock of porcine wonders will fly.

Wiser Republicans note there’s a reason Spartacus & Co. are working so hard to defeat this nomination. It’s partly because they despise Judge Kavanaugh’s philosophy and fear a fifth conservative on the high court. It’s partly because they want to spare their red-state colleagues a difficult choice before the midterms. But it is mostly because it is a fabulousissue with the Democratic base. Nothing would more energize that part of the electorate than a Kavanaugh scalp.

It would signal the “resistance” is effective and spur an avalanche of votes for liberal candidates who promise continued obstruction of Mr. Trump’s agenda. Democrats will promise that Senate control would allow them to block any replacement nominee as well and keep the seat open until Democrats take the presidency in 2020. For voters still smarting over Merrick Garland, that’s the ultimate motivator.

Republican voters? Oh yes, the base is furious over the Democratic treatment of Judge Kavanaugh. They are angry over the theatrical and uncivil hearings. They are riled up over this late and dirty Democratic hit, the releasing of an accuser’s letter months after it was first obtained.

But listen to those base voters on Twitter , on radio, in public forums. They are prepared to release most of their rage over any Kavanaugh defeat on the Republican Party. One of their abiding complaints is that GOP politicians too easily succumb to liberal tactics. It is among the most-cited reasons they voted for Mr. Trump—that (for better or worse) he doesn’t back down. And while some are tolerant of a process that allows this accuser to speak, what the base mostly sees is an old, unsubstantiated, unprovable claim, and a partisan smear designed to deny a duly elected president his Supreme Court pick.

These voters handed Republicans control of the White House and Congress in large part to oversee these Supreme Court fights. Republicans have 51 votes, a sterling candidate, and no excuses. Good luck to any GOP candidate who turns around and promises a new nominee after a Kavanaugh fail. Why would or should voters believe Republicans would get it done the next time? Especially given that Democrats know they can repeat the ambush exercise. Among the reasons base Republicans lag Democrats in enthusiasm for this election is bitterness that the GOP failed in core promises to repeal ObamaCare and to restrain spending. A blown Supreme Court nominee would make matters far worse.

A newly minted Justice Kavanaugh is a crucial part of any winning 2018 message. His confirmation would be proof Republicans are willing to fight for and fulfill promises. It won’t guarantee that they’ll win the midterms and retain their majorities. But it will guard against the drubbing they’d receive from their own voters if they bow now to Chuck Schumer’s underhanded tactics.

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