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 TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? 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 ClintonWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Democrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020 Poll: Warren leads Biden in Maine by 12 points MORE was not vastly different to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020 Poll shows Michelle Obama would lead in New Hampshire if she entered 2020 Democratic race Trump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong 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 FlakeTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong How to survive an impeachment Are Senate Republicans certain that Trump can return to office? 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 DonnellyWatchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Ind.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterRed-state Democrats worry impeachment may spin out of control Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group Senate Democrats hesitant to go all-in on impeachment probe MORE (Mont.) announcing they would vote against Kavanaugh.

But the picture is, as always, fluid. Two Democrats — Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Fallout from Kavanaugh confirmation felt in Washington one year later MORE (W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe 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 Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa 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