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 TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day 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 ClintonBiden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Clinton tweets impeachment website, encourages voters to 'see the evidence for themselves' MORE was not vastly different to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump Trump hosts pastor who says 'Jews are going to hell' at White House Hanukkah 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 FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 DonnellyGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle Watchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world MORE (Ind.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Krystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate MORE (Mont.) announcing they would vote against Kavanaugh.

But the picture is, as always, fluid. Two Democrats — Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump Manchin warns he'll slow-walk government funding bill until he gets deal on miners legislation MORE (W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states 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