The Political Stakes in the Kavanaugh Nomination
Thinking about the political calculus.
The political calculus at this point appears to go as follows. The Democrats hope that filling the vacant SCOTUS seat can be delayed until after the election and that they could then win control of the Senate. This would likely result in an eight justice court until the next election at least. The Republicans want the seat filled by October 1, when the Court starts its new session or as close thereto as is possible. (I don’t think it is possible to meet that deadline at this point, but they can still get close).
Now, the Democratic hopes are a combination of improbabilities. Even if Kavanaugh’s nomination is scuttled, there is still time for Trump to nominate, and for the Senate to confirm, a new Justice before the constitutional clock runs out (although the longer they fight the Kavanaugh fight, the shorter that clock gets). And, even if the clock runs out, the odds remain high that the Republicans retain control of the Senate after the mid-terms (although perhaps with an even thinner margin).
Note that Kavanaugh was was nominated on July 9th, i.e., roughly two and half months ago. There is currently over three months before the new congress is sworn in, although just over a month until the elections.
The Republicans clearly just want this over with. They want Kavanaugh on the Court as soon as possible so that they can enjoy a solid five seat conservative majority. They also appear to be digging in over the the issue of sunk costs into the Kavanaugh, often arguing as if he is the only option they have.
To be honest, I am not sure that the smart political play would not have been for Trump to withdraw on the notion that the position is too important to be tainted by these allegations. From a GOP POV the seat does not have to be occupied by any particular person, just by someone who is of the appropriate ideological persuasion. There is a literal list of such persons in the President’s possession.
Meanwhile, the politics of this are interesting. Note that a Fox New Poll shows a clear majority in opposition to Kavanaugh:
Currently, 40 percent of voters would confirm Kavanaugh, while 50 percent oppose him, according to a Fox News poll. Last month, views split 45-46 percent (August 19-21).
As with all things related to national politics, the poll is as much a reflection of prevailing views on Trump as they are about Kavanaugh. It is worth underscoring that Kavanaugh was polling poorly even before the allegations by Ford were made public.
A key political question for the Republicans as they go into the mid-terms: while placing Kavanaugh on the bench will please Republicans, will it not further motivate Democrats, especially in all those close Senate contests (especially in the context #MeToo/Year of the Woman II)?
Lost in all of this is that we are talking about 1/9th of an extremely powerful institution–which is actually more important than the immediate calendar (and why we should do our best to make sure these allegations have been thoroughly addressed).
In terms of the stakes for Kavanaugh himself and the GOP, let’s not forget:
- Kavanaugh’s punishment for not getting confirmed will be to continue a life-time appointment to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. (Contra Senator Graham, the stakes are not ruining Kavanaugh’s life).
- The President still has the power to appoint someone else, and has a Republican majority in the Senate until the beginning of 2019, and likely after that as well.