Sen. Mitch McConnell is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.
“The Democrats have already made up their minds and chosen their tactics. Delay. Obstruct. Resist. This shameful smear campaign has hit a new low… Senate Democrats are trying to destroy a man’s personal and professional life.”
The Senate majority leader’s floor speech on Monday reflected the changing mood among Republicans over the Kavanaugh confirmation battle. The turning point appears to have been the decision of the New Yorker to publish a widely-criticized and questionably-sourced piece alleging a second incident of sexual misconduct by Judge Kavanaugh while he was a college freshman. After days of playing defense and showing deference to Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, conservatives are now girding for battle.
“There is a phrase for what is happening here: character assassination,” editorializes the usually-understated Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. “Judge Kavanaugh’s good name is being smeared with sexual allegations on the eve of a Supreme Court confirmation vote in a campaign abetted if not orchestrated by Democrats.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), not known as a rhetorical firebrand, has called out ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein’s “disgraceful hypocrisy” in calling for the Kavanaugh vote to be delayed.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, the 84-year-old Mormon from Utah was even more blunt from the floor of the Senate:
“No innuendo has been too low, no insinuation too dirty. Everything is an excuse for delay, no matter how unsubstantiated. Senate Democrats are demeaning both the Senate and the Supreme Court through their partisan games and transparent attempts at character assassination. We should hear from Dr. Ford on Thursday as planned. Then we should vote,” Hatch said.
President Trump, who has shown a preternatural ability to read the mood of his party’s base, had already gone on the attack, raising questions about the credibility days ago. After Kavanaugh’s appearance on Fox News Monday night, the president tweeted “The Democrats are working hard to destroy a wonderful man, and a man who has the potential to be one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices ever, with an array of False Accusations the likes of which have never been seen before!”
Now that message from the base— On Kavanaugh, we’d rather fight than switch— has reached the U.S. Senate and GOP leaders are stepping up their battle plan. The days of deferring to Dr. Ford and her demands for accommodation are over.
“Conservatives want the Republicans to fight for this,” Tony Perkins of the social-conservative organization Family Research Council said in an interview on Monday. “This is what the election in 2016 was about and that’s what I believe the midterm election will be about as well.”
Republicans may also believe they have a more favorable battlefield to fight on. A new Gallup poll finds that the GOP is more popular than the Democratic Party (45-44 percent) and has the highest approval rating in seven years. And while Republicans still fare poorly in the generic ballot question (Dems +7.5 in the latest Real Clear Politics average) what hasn’t been noted is their steady trend line upward since last October, when generic-ballot support for the GOP bottomed out at 35 percent. Today it’s above 41 percent—supporting the data from Gallup that “Republicans have become more positive about their party over the past year.”
“The fact that Republicans are more likely to view their party favorably than a year ago can be considered a positive indicator for the party, particularly if a more positive image boosts Republican turnout,” Gallup’s Jim Norman concludes.
Ironically, the Democrats decision to make the Kavanaugh fight so highly partisan also makes it more likely he will be seated on the Supreme Court. While Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are both moderates, they are also Republicans. They need the support of both GOP voters back home and the Republican leadership of the U.S. Senate to succeed. Just as red-state Democrats like Sen. Claire McCaskill were looking for a path to vote “no,” it’s believed Collins is looking for a way to “yes.” The Hill quotes one senior GOP senate source as giving Collins a “51 percent chance” of voting for Kavanaugh.
In a sense this GOP’s struggle over how to handle the attacks on Kavanaugh is a continuation of the debate within the party during the 2016 campaign: Should Republicans respond to attacks from Democrats and to anti-GOP media bias by being reasonable and restrained, or should they (as the Obama White House told Democrats in 2009) “punch back twice as hard?” The establishment GOP candidates practiced the former, while the outsider Donald Trump urged the latter.
Two weeks into the Kavanaugh battle, Donald Trump wins again.