While Democrats refight the 2016 election, Republicans confirmed their second Supreme Court judge. The soiled Kavanaugh confirmation process put Democratic strategy for the 2018 midterms in plain view. The question is will what hasn’t worked to date do any better for the Dems a month from now?
This week’s FBI investigation was never going to turn up much beyond incomplete recollections. Apart from liberal Twitter, all of whom are apparently trauma memory experts (last week they were scholars of perjury law), most people in Normal America have a hard time conjuring up long ago details. It is even harder to remember things that never happened. The FBI had done background investigations six times on Kavanaugh over a period of decades without uncovering any of what people said this week, so in reality, the investigation lasted 30 years. Democrats knew unless the FBI miraculously turned up a blue dress with semen stains on it, the facts by themselves were never going to be enough.
The investigation, like Trump’s taxes and Russiagate, was really just a way to turn a scar into a scab to pick at, enough of something to propel the story into another week. Then if no new smoking gun-let drops into the media’s lap, the script says claim the process itself was unfair — Putin stole the election, gerrymandering cheated the vote, the FBI wasn’t allowed to interview enough witnesses.
The real plan was always to force the confirmation into the mold Democrats think will win them the House, the same gambit they thought would deliver a landslide in 2016. And so Kavanaugh’s complex judicial record was discarded in favor of Clinton-esque, er, progressive, talking points: the election, um, sorry, the confirmation is all about respect for women, fighting misogyny, defeating privilege, too many White Men, Trump is evil, we can’t have an accused rapist in the White House, sorry, on the Supreme Court! Disqualification via demonization. The Kavanaugh hearings were an updated version of what was supposed to be the 2016 game-changer, the “pussy grabbing tape.” The Dems would give America another shot at having had it with the patriarchy.
It didn’t work. Despite endless bleating the hearings were a “job interview” (imagine the lawsuit after a Microsoft hiring manager pivoted from coding skills to accusing someone of being a drunk) the hashtags were not enough. Judicial temperament problems? The issue never came up in Kavanaugh’s long career. Even so, few courtroom situations turn a judge into a Senators’ punching bag; maybe a little righteous anger was called for? Some may even remember how Democratic voters abandoned presidential candidate Mike Dukakis when he was too dispassionate in his reaction to a question about someone assaulting his wife.
Things devolved too quickly from concern over Roe v. Wade to an attempt to catch Kavanaugh out on yearbook nomenclature. Dems convinced themselves it was conclusive when Maddow labeled Kavanaugh a liar over what “Devil’s Triangle” really meant in a suburban Maryland boy’s school in 1982. They imagined people would believe wrongly stating the drinking age in Maryland decades ago was perjury and not just a mistake. They thought people would care more if the pool of “victims” (i.e., anyone who saw Kavanaugh with a brewski) increased exponentially. Most everything serious was lost in a cloud of stupid.
It is a hard ask to get people concerned about health care as a life-or-death issue to take you seriously as a party when all you seem to care about is high school butt sex. Jester Michael Avenatti pushed things further into farce with an “accuser” whose credibility failed sitcom standards. Susan Collins specifically cited Avenatti’s actions as part of her decision to vote yes on Kavanaugh. Yet Democrats still see Avenatti as a useful idiot, a kamikaze working alongside them, without understanding he demeans the seriousness of everything he touches as a tabloid Midas.
It was little surprise the absurdity of it all was missed by the Dems. One Democratic strategist stated “identity politics has really become the ecology you’re operating in. Economics aren’t as dispositive as they used to be.” That makes sense only to a party banking its midterm strategy on voters not noticing the economy is doing pretty well. It follows pretending constant predictions of trade wars and real wars haven’t all turned out to be crying wolf. It starts to make sense America would go along with the idea a guy claiming he wasn’t a drunk in college means he’s a liar unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.
There were issues in Kavanaugh’s judicial history worth debating. Concern over Roe runs deep. But the Democrats spent little thought on that, failing to grasp while American demographics may be changing, they haven’t yet changed.
The only constituency re-energized over Kavanaugh is suburban liberal white women (accuser Ford could not have been more a Clintonite if Murphy Brown was reanimated out of the 1980s via a horcrux from Hillary herself), a group favoring the Democrats anyway. Apparently this group can also be counted on to ignore the likelihood a Democrat Senator outed Ford when she wanted to remain anonymous, and to overlook attempts to slut-shame high school girl Renate Schroeder on the grounds if she was a pass-around Kavanaugh was a non-virgin who screwed tramps like that. Same for the tsunami of criticism directed at Susan Collins, labeled a traitor to her gender to the point where people are donating money to her unknown opponent of the future. No one on CNN praised her as a courageous woman who made a thoughtful decision.
There seems little inside the Kavanaugh fight to specifically drive minorities, already understood as reluctant voters, to the polls. Millennial voters share a low historic turnout rate. If you can’t get a lot more than 1 out of 4 in a demographic to show up things are unlikely to work out (71% of Americans over 65 vote, skewing Republican, and the Kavanaugh saga could easily energize them into an even higher turnout). There seems little-to-no Democratic plan to shift these historical trends other than Trump rage, and the warm feelings of consensual hallucination embodied in social media aside, that failed again this week to affect a #RealWorld event.
“Purple” men moving to the Democrat side? One of the things which damaged the women’s movement in the 1980s and helped the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA; remember that?) to fail was an overemphasis on men as the enemy, a feature of the Kavanaugh process. Many women walked away from the feminist groups supporting the ERA, knowing the mantras “all men are rapists” and “Republicans hate women” just weren’t true.
This is what is happening now, when people who support Trump based on economics end up labeled fascists, people who support Kavanaugh based on his judicial history are rape apologists (or traitors), and people who support free speech are Nazis. Same as post-Parkland, when people who support the 2A were slandered as child killers. It’s deplorable. No one supports rapists or child killers. But few voters are willing to trust Democrats that see them as people who do.
The point of politics is to change people’s minds, not declare them unfit to walk among decent folk. Kavanaugh proved the Democrats (and their partnered media) are still unaware while this may be the year of #MeToo in Washington, New York, and Hollywood, it’s still just 2018 in West Virginia.
The Democrats failed in 2016 when they tried to make the election a referendum on Trump’s behavior. They failed again this week with the same strategy, even after elevating Kavanaugh to a psychopathic POTUS mini-me. With no tailwind from Russiagate, Democrats move toward November with little more than more of the same, throwing in some mumbled threats to impeach Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court (will that be before or after they impeach Trump?) if they take the House.
It’s bad enough to pick the wrong hill to die on. Even worse to do it three times.
Peter Van Buren, a 24 year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan. He is permanently banned from Federal employment and Twitter.