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The Memo: GOP risks disaster with Kavanaugh, midterms

The question for Republicans, as they press forward with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, is whether they risk alienating female voters for years — and just in time for this year’s midterms.

Progressives are certain the GOP will end up on the losing side, pointing to intense outrage over the likely confirmation of a judge to the Supreme Court despite compelling testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, who says he sexually assaulted her decades ago.

“I think the Republicans are going to lose women for a generation,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior adviser and national spokeswoman for MoveOn, a progressive group. 

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Speaking on Friday evening, and referring to the questioning of Ford and Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee the previous day, Jean-Pierre added: “Women are not going to forget what happened yesterday — they are not going to forget it tomorrow and not in November,” when the midterm elections take place. 

Republican and Trump loyalists see things entirely differently.

Many contend that Kavanaugh is the victim of a partisan plot to derail him. 

More broadly, they note that President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration MORE won the majority of white women in the 2016 election and that the 13-point margin by which he lost women overall to Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCarter Page files defamation lawsuit against DNC Dems fear party is headed to gutter from Avenatti’s sledgehammer approach Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight MORE was not vastly different to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney defends Trump’s policies as ‘effective,' disputes he led 'never Trump' movement Trump adds campaign stops for Senate candidates in Montana, Arizona, Nevada How America’s urban-rural divide is changing the Democratic Party MORE’s 11-point deficit against former President Obama.

The confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would be a huge victory for conservatives, tilting the court to the right for years to come. He would also become Trump’s second nominee to be confirmed, after Neil Gorsuch last year, giving the most polarizing president of recent times a judicial legacy that would last decades.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel fo the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group that supports Kavanaugh’s nomination, expressed sympathy for Ford in a statement after Thursday’s day of testimony.

But Severino also asserted: “Anyone who sympathizes with her should be outraged that the Democrats have politicized this process to the irreparable detriment of both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Senators have a choice: endorse a smear campaign or support Judge Kavanaugh.”

Some independent observers agree the GOP is likely to suffer real damage from the Kavanaugh controversy. And that’s despite a last-minute, dramatic intervention by Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Live coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight MORE (R-Ariz.) on Friday. 

While backing Kavanaugh in committee, Flake indicated he would not support the judge in a final Senate vote unless there was an FBI investigation of the accusations leveled against him. 

Ford claims with “100 percent” certainty that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party in Maryland in 1982. Kavanaugh denies the allegation with equal adamance.

Asked if Flake’s move would be enough to ameliorate the damage the GOP may have suffered, Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, answered: “I doubt it.”

Reeher added: “The emotions surrounding this have been extremely high, and most Republicans are on record already showing they wanted to go forward with a vote. Those things can’t be walked back.”

There is some concern among conservatives that, if the president or Republican leaders in Congress were to cut Kavanaugh loose, they could disillusion their base as an already difficult midterm election looms.

There are some signs of that already. Right-wing commentator and provocateur Ann Coulter tweeted on Friday: “Full senate should vote right away. Otherwise every GOP senator will need armed guards and a bulletproof vest tonight.”

But that view glosses over the dynamics that affect Republican lawmakers running in competitive districts and states. For the most part, they had hoped to run campaigns laser-focused on the strong economy. 

Especially in swing House districts, there are few subjects more unwelcome to GOP candidates than whether the president’s nominee to the Supreme Court sexually assaulted a fellow high school student 36 years ago.

As to Kavanaugh’s fate, there is now more uncertainty for Republicans. They have had a rollercoaster ride, first being shaken by Ford’s testimony then becoming more bullish after Kavanaugh made a combative stand in his own defense.

“Kavanaugh will likely get confirmed with red-state Democratic support because he successfully defended his life and his family while forcefully refuting the allegations,” Ron Bonjean, who served as a communications strategist during Gorsuch’s nomination process, had insisted on Thursday night.

That prospect seemed less likely as the weekend loomed, with some vulnerable Democrats, including Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump Jr. to stump in Indiana for Pence’s brother and governor hopeful The overhaul needed to get the global economy off coal, oil and gas The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Big haul for O'Rourke | Senators press Trump to get tougher on Saudis | Kavanaugh tensions linger MORE (Ind.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia Trump adds campaign stops for Senate candidates in Montana, Arizona, Nevada Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November MORE (Mont.) announcing they would vote against Kavanaugh.

But the picture is, as always, fluid. Two Democrats — Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump makes new overtures to Democrats Gillibrand backs Manchin, Bredesen despite their support of Kavanaugh Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees MORE (W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampElection Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November Florida politics play into disaster relief debate MORE (N.D.) have not shown their hand.

Democratic strategists, however, believe the larger picture is one that will turbocharge female turnout in the midterms.

They point not only to the GOP support for Kavanaugh, but a broader shift in the public atmosphere. 

The #MeToo movement has put issues pertaining to the abuse of women by powerful or privileged men center-stage as never before. 

Liberal women have also been in the vanguard of opposition to Trump and the GOP since the beginning of his administration, when huge female-led protests took place across the nation the day after his January 2017 inauguration.

“Everyone can agree that this is a moment for our country to be true to the moral foundation of who we are. That’s the question many women are facing,” said Democratic strategist Marcy Stech, who has worked extensively in the past with female candidates. 

“It’s pretty clear that Democrats are the party that listens to women, that believes women,” Stech added. “And Republicans couldn’t be further from that.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency