ANALYSIS: The fight over Brett Kavanaugh may be helping Republicans’ mid-term chances
For months we’ve heard predictions of a “blue wave” this November, with Democrats poised to win control of the House of Representatives, and perhaps the Senate, during mid-term elections.
There are a couple factors at play here; the unpopularity of Donald Trump, frustration with a Republican Party that has unequivocally backed him, and an “enthusiasm gap,” in which Democrats are simply more motivated to turn out and vote.
But little more than a month away from voting day, the tide may be shifting in favour of Republicans.
It’s all because of the nasty fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Call it the Kavanaugh effect.
The fate of the Supreme Court has long been a huge motivating factor for Republican voters.
Just before Trump’s election in 2016, former Republican House speaker John Boehner explained to Fox News, “The only thing that really matters over the next four years or eight years is who is going to appoint the next Supreme Court nominees.”
This also explains why Donald Trump spent so much time talking about the future of the court on the campaign trail.
The reason? Washington is politically gridlocked and it’s incredibly difficult to pass substantial legislation with slim majorities and a Congress that is often split between both parties.
So regardless of who sits in the oval office or who controls Congress, the only way to advance a political agenda is to ensure ideological control of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, gave corporations the right to donate vast amounts of money to political campaigns, determined access to abortion and ruled on how far religious liberties extend.
Even if lawmakers can’t move the needle on an issue, the nine justices on the court surely can — and they have.
Which brings us back to Brett Kavanaugh.
He was already an explosively controversial choice to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Kennedy was the swing vote — the one justice who could vote with either the four conservative justices, or the four liberal ones. They called him “the decider.”
But nothing about Kavanaugh’s past suggests he will lean in any direction other than to the right — a fear that was only bolstered by his recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he claimed those probing accusations of sexual assault were motivated by resentment towards President Trump and “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”
Democrats were already up in arms about this, and they were deeply worried on Kavanaugh’s past views on presidential authority and a president’s susceptibility to criminal indictment.
Then came the accusations of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, followed by her emotional testimony and Kavanaugh’s angry, accusatory rebuttal.
WATCH BELOW: Trump mocked Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford
To hear Republicans tell it, the accusations and subsequent week-long FBI investigation were all politically motivated.
Democrats claimed it was only right to investigate such accusations against a man who’s up for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the nation.
But all the back and forth may have had an impact on voters, who seem split right down party lines.
According to a Quinnipiac poll, 48 per cent of Americans say the Senate should not confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, compared with 42 per cent who say they should.
While 49 per cent say Kavanaugh “is the target of a politically motivated smear campaign,” another 45 per cent say he isn’t.
WATCH BELOW: Democrats disagree with Grassley on ‘no hint of sexual misconduct’ in Kavanaugh FBI probe
On the whole, Kavanaugh was already a historically unpopular nominee, but the ongoing battle over his future now seems to be motivating Republican voters in surprising ways.
Aside from individual Senate races, in which some Democrats have seen their numbers evaporate, a new NPR/PBS/Marist poll found “the wide Democratic enthusiasm advantage that has defined the 2018 campaign up to this point has disappeared.”
Statistically, Republicans and Democrats are now equally motivated to turn out and vote, but back in July, Democrats had a 10-point advantage.
In short, the fight over Kavanaugh has woken up Republicans who already care deeply about the fate of the Supreme Court.
If Kavanaugh is confirmed, it could re-energize Democrats.
If Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, it could keep Republicans all fired up – and if they can keep control of the Senate, they’ll still control who fills that Supreme Court vacancy.
WATCH: U.S. senators review sole copy of FBI’s Kavanaugh report
Jackson Proskow is Washington Bureau Chief for Global National.
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