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The vote on Brett Kavanaugh is likely to be taken this weekend. But, the impact of the battle over his confirmation is likely to have short and long-term consequences.
As for the short term, the consensus seems to be building among both Democratic and Republican strategists that this fight is not good for Democrats currently holding — or candidates hoping to win — red districts or states. And, while the issue should help Democrats to solidify the gains they’ve made with women in the so-called professional suburbs, it’s not clear that it’s doing anything to motivate the young and Latino voters they need to win in South Texas, Los Angeles County or Florida.
Recent polling by the New York Times Upshot/Siena College found Kavanaugh’s support to be lower in suburban districts where Trump is already very unpopular, but higher in districts where Trump has higher approval ratings. For example, polling taken late last week/early this week (9/29-10/2) in the suburban Twin Cities (MN-02), pegged Trump’s job approval at 38 percent and support for Kavanaugh at 43 percent. Democratic nominee Angie Craig is leading GOP Rep. Jason Lewis 51 percent to 39 percent.
But, in the more conservative-leaning Cincinnati suburbs/exurbs (OH-01), Trump is much more popular (48 percent approval rating), as is support for Kavanaugh (51 percent). GOP Rep. Steve Chabot is ahead of his Democratic opponent Aftab Pureval, by nine points (50 to 41 percent). Did you notice something else? Look at how Trump’s job approval rating, the share of the vote for the GOP candidate and support for Kavanaugh are basically all within a couple points of one another.
In other words, one’s opinion of Kavanaugh is closely tied to one’s opinion of the president. If you approve the president, you support Kavanaugh. If you dislike Trump, you don’t support his SCOTUS nominee. The better voters view Trump, the better the GOP candidate’s standing in the head to head matchup with his/her Democratic opponent.
Want some other examples? In WA-08, the open seat in suburban Seattle, the New York Times Upshot/Siena poll taken at the end of last week pegged Trump’s job approval at 45 percent. The GOP nominee for the seat, Dino Rossi, was at 45 percent in the head to head match-up with his Democratic opponent. And Kavanaugh is …you guessed it… at 45 percent.
In places like suburban Chicago, or Philadelphia, where Trump has approval ratings in the high-30’s or low 40’s, opinions about Kavanaugh will fall roughly in the same place. But, these were already places where the Democrat candidate was running ahead of — or only narrowly behind – the GOP candidate.
Yet, in those districts where the president is close to — or over 50 percent approval rating – a polarized, partisan fight is better for the Republican.
For example, of the 29 GOP-held seats currently rated as Toss Up, polling (and an understanding of the political terrain), suggest that the president is above water — or even close to 50 percent — in close to half of those districts. I’m thinking of places like upstate New York (Rep. Claudia Tenney’s 22nd CD), downstate Illinois (Rep. Mike Bost’s 12th CD), or the open seat in Topeka (KS-02). Those are places where a fight that breaks out along purely partisan/polarized lines isn’t going to be helpful for the Democratic candidate. These aren’t places where the Democrat wants to “nationalize” the election. In fact, the Democrats running here are stressing their independence and a willingness to forgo purely partisan allegiances.
What we don’t know, of course, is where all the energy that we are seeing on the right and the left goes once the nomination fight is over. In most political battles, the losers remain more engaged and energized than the winners. Just look at how Democrats and Republicans responded to the passage of Obamacare in 2010. Republicans never stopped fighting the battle, while Democrats were never willing to engage in defending the territory they had captured.
But, this battle isn’t unique to the Trump era. It’s simply the latest in a never-ending war by both sides to justify their partisan behavior. Neither side has cornered the market on hypocrisy. It’s hard to take Republican claims of Democrats operating in bad faith seriously, when Republicans held up the nomination of Merrick Garland for much of 2016. It’s also hard to reconcile Democrats’ universal cries of “I believe her,” with the terrible treatment many showed to Anita Hill, Monica Lewinsky and/or Paula Jones. Meanwhile, voters aren’t making the distinctions on policy or procedure or hypocrisy either. Instead, they rally behind their "team." There’s no time for nuance; there is only time for war. So, war it will be for the foreseeable future.