Capitol Journal: What would a Kavanaugh confirmation mean for the midterm elections? It’s all about trade-offs

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaves after the panel approved, along party lines, the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Friday at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Here’s what I figure: If the Republican-controlled Senate promotes Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it’ll help Democrats on election day. If Kavanaugh is rejected, the GOP will get a boost.

That’s because Democratic voters will be so riled about Kavanaugh’s elevation that they’ll turn out in unusually high numbers to support their party’s candidates on Nov. 6. They were already apoplectic about President Trump before he nominated Kavanaugh.

And vice versa: If Kavanaugh is spurned — and conservatives are denied a 5-4 solid majority on the court — Republicans will be so bitter that there’ll be a heavier GOP turnout.


So if you’re the Republican Party, you could win the Supreme Court and lose Congress, or at least the House. For Democrats, your worst nightmare could become reality on the court. But you could live your dream of recapturing at least half of Congress.

Which is the better trade-off? A lifetime seat on the Supreme Court with ideological control for the foreseeable future far outweighs a congressional majority, which is much more cyclical.

Anyway, that’s my win-one, lose-one thesis.

“It’s too early to assess the political implications,” says Mark Baldassare, president and pollster of the Public Policy Institute of California. “It’s not too early to say this [confirmation fight] is such a big event that it’s going to drive turnout.”

The brawl “will motivate marginal voters of both parties to come out,” says Bob Shrum, a longtime Democratic strategist who is director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of politics at USC.

A poll released last week by Baldassare’s policy institute showed that 74% of California’s likely voters consider the selection of the next Supreme Court justice to be “very important” to them “personally.” This was especially true among Democrats.

Women, who already leaned toward Democrats, have been shifting even further left during the Trump presidency, a recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed. The national survey found women favoring Democrats by 28 percentage points among likely voters.


After last week’s tumultuous hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, political experts envision an even greater shift by women toward Democrats. The committee is dominated by Republicans, 11 to 10, and all GOP members are white males.

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The televised hearing “reinforced the image that the Republican Party consists of a bunch of angry old white guys, and in the long run that doesn’t help the Republican Party,” says Darry Sragow, a former Democratic strategist who now publishes the nonpartisan California Target Book, which handicaps congressional and legislative races.

“It further makes it difficult for college-educated suburban women to vote for Republicans this fall,” says Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant.

The committee’s GOP majority essentially disregarded the testimony of Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teens. He emphatically denied it.

“We appeared to be very tone deaf,” says veteran Republican strategist Mike Murphy. “I thought it was bad.”

California has a big role in these midterm elections, Murphy notes. A handful of Southern California congressional seats could flip from Republican to Democrat and cost the GOP control of the House.

“These are suburban districts — the kind where white, educated women voters are going to resonate with the Democratic argument” against Kavanaugh. Many are fearful of his conservative views on abortion rights and other liberal social causes supported in California. “We’re going to lose votes,” Murphy says.

Murphy and Shrum head a new Center for the Political Future at USC, a program designed to teach students political civility.

Political civility isn’t in vogue in this era of polarization and pugnacity. That makes California Sen. Dianne Feinstein a target. She is one of the more civil and thus productive members of Congress, and is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

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Feinstein, heavily favored to win a fifth full term in November, is accused by fiery Berniecrats and her underdog opponent, state Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), of being “weak” and too nice to Trump and Republicans. But she showed common sense and strength in the Judiciary Committee hearings.

Republicans, Democratic leftists and De León blasted her for holding onto Ford’s letter that detailed the professor’s allegations against Kavanaugh. The FBI could have been investigating for weeks, critics claimed. But that wasn’t going to happen because Trump and the GOP didn’t want it to.

Finally, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona forced a limited FBI probe as a trade-off for his decisive committee vote sending the Kavanaugh nomination to the Senate floor. So Democrats got their investigation after all.

Ford asked Feinstein not to publicly release her name. The senator honored the request by holding onto the letter until the professor gave her story to the Washington Post. It was the ethical thing for Feinstein to do.

As for Kavanaugh, what he allegedly did once as a 17-year-old might have been forgiven by some if he’d come clean and done a mea culpa. But he claimed it never happened. I believe Ford. I think he’s lying. An unrepentant blatant liar shouldn’t be sitting on the Supreme Court.

Now other women also are accusing Kavanaugh of drunken and sexual misbehavior in his youth.

Plus, he didn’t exactly display judicial temperament in the committee hearing. He showed belligerence, self-pity, lack of control and political bias unfit for a Supreme Court justice.

The lesson from all this: Moms and dads, drum home to your young sons that “no” means no — and excessive underage drinking can mess up their lives.

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