How Kavanaugh Could Help The GOP

October 04, 2018

Following last week’s extraordinary testimony by Prof. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, public attitudes are split and malleable.

The hearing eroded support for Judge Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, according to a Sept. 30 Harvard-Harris poll. Before the hearing, 36% of voters favored his confirmation with 38% opposed and 26% undecided. After the hearing, support for confirmation was roughly unchanged, but opposition ticked up to 44% as the share of undecideds fell. Responses broke along partisan lines: Republicans favored confirmation 72% to 13%, while Democrats opposed it 71% to 16%. Independents also opposed confirmation, 45% to 28%.

But the tide of opinion could reverse after the Federal Bureau of Investigation finishes its supplemental background check. The Harvard-Harris survey also asked respondents where they would stand if the FBI review “finds no corroboration” of Ms. Ford’s accusations. In that case, support for confirming Judge Kavanaugh rises to 60%—including 58% among independents—while opposition drops to 40%.

This is why Democrats—who demanded an FBI investigation—are likely to disparage it once it concludes. They will argue it was rushed even though Sen. Amy Klobuchar initially said “let’s give this one week” and Sen. Mazie Hirono said over the weekend “there is time to get to the bottom of it, even if it’s seven days.” In a Sept. 20 letter to the White House, Democratic senators noted that “the FBI finished its work in three days” when investigating accusations against Clarence Thomas in 1991.

But Sen. Richard Blumenthal has already called the FBI’s time frame “too accelerated and too artificial.” After Democrats warned the White House not to influence the FBI’s work, Mr. Blumenthal now demands the FBI question 25 people. Once the investigation wraps up, Democrats may insist on another televised hearing. Others will drop the sexual-assault issue and turn to teenage drinking and yearbook scribbles to suggest Judge Kavanaugh misled the Judiciary Committee.

Democrats aren’t the only ones revved up by all this. The Harvard-Harris poll found 46% of Republicans along with 50% of Democrats agreed “the battle over Brett Kavanaugh” made them “more likely to turn out and vote in this November’s midterm elections.” Republicans have generally been less enthusiastic than Democrats, but they may have been jolted into action by this controversy.

The GOP could strengthen its hand further—especially with independents—by keeping the focus on how Democrats created this mess. Sixty-nine percent of all voters—not just Republicans—believe “the Senate confirmation hearings . . . have been a national disgrace.” Seventy-five percent of voters agree Sen. Dianne Feinstein should “have immediately turned over the letter from Christine Blasey Ford” rather than sit on it for six weeks until it was leaked in the media. Note to California Republicans, left without a Senate candidate by the state’s open primary: Vote for Mrs. Feinstein’s Democratic opponent, Kevin de Leon. The better his showing in California’s red precincts, the bigger the rebuke to Mrs. Feinstein.

How will this ugly confirmation fight affect the midterms? In crucial Senate races in red states like Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia, it will hurt Democrats. There are simply a lot more Republicans than Democrats in these states, and Republicans support Judge Kavanaugh. That’s why North Dakota’s Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin and Tennessee hopeful Phil Bredesen, all Democrats, have yet to join their party’s mob trying to destroy the nominee.

Two other red-state Democratic senators, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Montana’s Jon Tester, oppose the judge, but offered reasons other than Ms. Ford’s accusations. Indiana’s Joe Donnelly may find himself in a pickle. He came out against Judge Kavanaugh over Ms. Ford’s claim and said it “should be investigated by the FBI.” But if the FBI cannot corroborate the accusations, Mr. Donnelly can be hammered for rushing to judgment on Mr. Kavanaugh without waiting for the evidence he asked for.

In purple states such as Arizona, Florida and Nevada, this issue will cut more evenly between the parties. GOP candidates there must emphasize that the hearings were a mess that could have been avoided if Mrs. Feinstein turned over Ms. Ford’s letter promptly. That way her privacy could have been protected and the charges examined in the FBI’s normal process.

It would have been better for Ms. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh and the country if regular order had been followed. But Democrats refused. Now America will have to live with the ugly consequences, which will only be made worse if a good man is kept from the bench by an uncorroborated charge promoted by a party that specializes in last-minute character assassination.

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