Reading into Kavanaugh
Because sometimes politics is chess, and sometimes its checkers
by Chris Thomas
As Resistbot’s policy editor, I haven’t felt like there’s a lot I can contribute to the Kavanaugh conversation. This blog is, after all, about drawing attention to the issues where the community can make a difference and highlighting specific policies, politicians, and processes by which our user base can most effectively exert influence.
In that sense, Resistbot’s policy team doesn’t have much work remaining on the Kavanaugh issue. The confirmation hearings have sucked all of the political oxygen out the room for other issues and the policy implications of Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation have been well and truly assessed. The Resistbot user base is engaged on the issue and the volume and content of letters from pretty much every state in the Union reflects the historically unpopular status of his nomination. Resistbotters in Arizona, Maine, and Alaska are aware of the outsized influence their Senators have over the process and Resistbot’s analytics show that those communities are taking their responsibilities seriously.
And yet this whole process doesn’t sit well with me. Something is off; something doesn’t fit.
When Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Court the obvious two issues that defined the fight over his confirmation were abortion and executive power. As the vote replacing Justice Kennedy, Kavanaugh stands to decide — in effect — the future of American jurisprudence on the matter of abortion. With the Mueller investigation coming to a head, Kavanaugh could also stand as the deciding vote on how and if the Trump Administration can be held to account by the judicial system.
When these were the stakes of the fight the unpopularity of Kavanaugh’s nomination didn’t matter very much to the Republican Party. Kavanaugh would provide insulation against politically damaging investigation, making him a win in the White House’s book and he’d be an anti-choice Justice, making him a win for the Republican base. That he was unpopular because of those things didn’t matter because he wasn’t unpopular with the voters that elect Republicans.
But the introduction of accusations that Kavanaugh attempted to rape Christine Blasey Ford at a house party in the early 1980s changes — or rather should change — the political calculus. The moment those allegations became public the fight shifted from one about political objectives to one about cultural ones. Democrats became the defenders of rape victims and Republicans the defenders of rapists.
This is and was entirely predictable which is why, in the hours after the accusations became public, you saw people from both sides of the aisle tiptoeing around the issue rather than confronting it head on. The image of a bunch of old, rich, white Republican men berating a sexual assault victim in defense of another old, rich, white, Republican man is not a great one.
But sometime in the week that followed Kavanaugh’s transition from Judge to Perpetrator, that is exactly what the Republican Party decided to do.
And I can not figure out why.
Brett Kavanaugh is not the only anti-choice judge who is under 60 and has qualifications that would pass muster with the US Senate. He’s not even the only anti-choice judge who thinks the President is functionally above the law. Indeed, one need only pause and step back for a moment to realize that the Senate would probably have an easier time confirming an under-qualified judge than one who’s been accused of sexual assault. Indeed, while unsuccessful, the confirmation process for President Bush’s hilariously under-qualified nominee — Harriet Miers — proceeded much faster than Kavanaugh’s despite the threat of a Democratic filibuster.
And yet the Republican Party has apparently decided to go to the mat for Judge Kavanaugh. In so doing, it has become a caricature of itself — a party verbosely dedicated to the defense of privilege, wealth, and misogyny. In siding with a rapist over his would-be victim, the GOP risks alienating a goodly portion of the electorate in 2018 and in elections to come. Kavanaugh’s nomination could be extraordinarily costly, politically speaking, especially if he is instrumental in a vote that overturns or curtails Roe v Wade.
The Republican Party is taking all of these risks and yet there is no upside for them. None at all. They could have much more easily cut Kavanaugh loose the moment the allegations became public, backed away from sexual assault as a bridge-too-far, and found a new, equally regressive candidate who doesn’t have a history of getting blackout drunk and forcing himself on women. Sure, it might have taken slightly longer but the Republicans will hold the Senate until January at least, if not until 2021.
They have the votes. They have the time. They have a wide choice of candidates. So why Kavanaugh? Why stand with him and all of the baggage he comes with?
Make no mistake, it’s looking to be a lot of baggage. The New Yorker is detailing new allegations of sexual assault at a party at Yale. This allegation pulls double duty, politically speaking; it suggests that Kavanaugh may be a serial sexual assailant and it also directly contradicts his sworn testimony before the US Senate. Oh, and there’s more on the way including allegations of knowledge of and participation in gang rape.
I’ve seen a lot of explanations for the GOP strategy on this — not wanting to go into the midterms on a loss, a sense of panic in the White House, fear of alienating the evangelical base, even straight-up hubris — but none of them make sense given the kind of cold, rational, hardball politics we’ve seen from Mitch McConnell in the past.
The National Republican Party is openly declaring itself the party of rapists and misogynists and for no discernible benefit whatsoever. It’s baffling.
Tell Congress What You Think
There may be 6, 9, or 11 Senators on the fence for the Kavanaugh vote but after this weekend the entire Senate should be rethinking their positions. Now is the time to tell your Senator how you think the Senate should proceed. You can write to your Senators by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to make a difference.