The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 39 – This week:
- Dems keep up push to derail Kavanaugh
- House GOP turns to triage
- Rescuing Ryan’s seat
Despite a second allegation of decades-ago sexual misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, this will almost certainly be the week when his nomination is decided. The suspicious timing of the still-unsubstantiated first allegation has irritated conservatives to no end. They want to see Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee seated before the election throws Senate control up for grabs.
But this second allegation — one published in an article that also appeared to refute it based on witness testimony — gives the distinct impression of a deliberate political effort to push the nomination past the election.
Consider that the new allegation was made public just after Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley’s ultimatum finally forced Kavanaugh’s first accuser to commit to testifying next week. Before that ultimatum, she had been holding out to testify only after an FBI investigation of her 36-year-old allegation of a non-federal crime.
For a time, it really appeared that she might not testify at all. But a failure to testify after coming forward was proving indefensible. It looked bad, especially after a number of vulnerable Democratic senators had urged that she be given the chance to testify.
Still, the accuser’s strategy made sense. Once she testifies, the Senate can make a decision. As long as she doesn’t, it must delay, unless it chooses not to listen.
Then again, what if a new unsubstantiated allegation is lobbed just as the Senate’s decision is due? And then another? And then another? This could continue indefinitely.
Ultimately, Senate Republicans are going to have to make a hard decision based on a simple lack of credible evidence against Kavanaugh. Given the time that’s passed, it’s highly unlikely that he can actually disprove the first allegation of what supposedly happened at a high school party.
In confirming Kavanaugh, they would obviously be voting for someone who maybe actually did what he’s accused of doing in high school. Maybe. But absent any clear evidence, Republicans really need to ask whether that possibility is as bad as permitting unreliable, last-minute allegations in order to prevent a shift on the Supreme Court — and whether such a strategy should be allowed to succeed. Because if it does, this won’t be the last time it’s used.
In the meantime, the vote on Kavanaugh is unlikely to have the effect on Red State Democrats that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had hoped when he threatened to hold it just before the election. Thanks to all the last-minute mudslinging, any senator who wants to vote against Kavanaugh now has ample cover.
Generic ballot polling continues to point strongly toward Democratic gains. A Democratic majority is still very much on the cards for next year. And certainly a failure by Democrats to take the House would be a massive disappointment, a gut punch to the entire party and those who style themselves as a resistance movement against the Trump presidency.
But of course, voters don’t choose a generic party. They vote for individual candidates. And we wanted to take a look this week at where Republicans seem to be putting their resources in an effort at triage.
Republican incumbents are everywhere defending themselves, and often from very shaky ground. One can see how by looking at where Republicans money is flowing.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a SuperPAC associated with Paul Ryan, is trying to play the role of fireman, putting out fires and rescuing members whose races once seemed to be lost. They claim to have righted the ship so far in at least two districts — Kentucky-6 and Ohio-1 — citing their own internal polls.
In addition to those two districts, the group announced last week a handful of districts where they are committing millions in additional or new resources: Michigan-6 (Fred Upton), North Carolina-2 (George Holding), California-45 (Mimi Walters), California-10 (Jeff Denham), New York-19 (John Faso), New York-22 (Claudia Tenney), Illinois-13 (Rodney Davis), Illinois-12 (Mike Bost), Virginia-7 (Dave Brat), Texas-7 (John Culberson), Kansas-2 (open), New Mexico-2 (open), California-39 (open), and Nevada-3 (open).
CLF also included Wisconsin’s First district. It is likely a personal point of pride for Ryan not to have his own seat go to the Democrats just as he retires.
What these commitments mean is subject to interpretation. Yes, the results in helping Reps. Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, provide an appearance of successful intervention. But the fact that this group feels it has to spend so much in such Republican-leaning districts is probably a bad sign.
On the other hand, the fact that they spend in a district suggests that they still believe it not to be a lost cause. And in the case of Nevada-3, a perennially competitive seat that is currently held by a Democrat, the expenditure is designed even to inspire some hope.
But here’s the kicker: Even if Republicans were to succeed in saving the 13 GOP-held districts listed above (not terribly likely), and take over Nevada-3, they could easily still lose the House. There are more than three dozen Republican seats currently considered “toss-up” or worse by RealClear or the Cook Political Report. Democrats only need to gain a net two dozen seats to win the House.
So the House GOP is clearly looking for a miracle, and trying to save whomever they can.
Texas: If recent election cycles are any indication, then the Quinnipiac poll showing Sen. Ted Cruz with a nine-point lead over Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke is probably the one the trust. Other polls show a much tighter race.
But although Texas might be changing, it probably isn’t changing that much. Republicans in Texas have tended in recent years to do better when the votes are counted than they do when the polls are taken. Many a supposedly close race has turned out to be a dud, stretching all the way from 2002 to 2014, including Senate and governors’ races. Cruz faces an uncomfortably close race, but it is one he should still win.