A week to smear him, or a chance to clear his name?

This week: The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 40

  • Another week for Kavanaugh: disaster, or saving grace?
  • Democrats’ House map keeps expanding
  • A big-smiling Hawley goes up on air

Supreme Court:

In a dramatic moment Friday,  Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., announced that yes, he would be voting to advance Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to the Senate floor. However, he added, his vote on the floor (and, he strongly hinted, others’ vote there as well) would depend on the FBI conducting a limited investigation into the existing allegations, to last no more than a week.

It’s an interesting move because, with the vocal cooperation of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, it leaves Flake holding all the cards. So long as they are serious, Senate Republican leadership doesn’t dare bring the nomination to the floor.

Conservatives were understandably miffed by this. To date, not a single charge against Kavanaugh has been corroborated, not even a little bit. Meanwhile, Democrats have rather viciously sought to insinuate that his high school yearbook or his (perfectly normal) love of beer in high school indicates that he is constantly blackout drunk and could rape women without thinking twice.

Flake’s delay, even if it is less than a week, gives more time to the same left-wing complex that has been scrambling to put together a case against Kavanaugh to build a tendentious circumstantial and mostly political case against him. It also gives more crazies and people with potential grudges more time to come out of the woodwork and drag the judge’s name through the mud some more.

That’s the bad news. But before Flake’s move, it is worth noting, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., had noted that the votes weren’t there just yet to confirm Kavanaugh. That strongly suggests that the move might help a process that might have otherwise been more difficult.

The temptation is certainly just to heap blame upon Flake, without whose say-so the nomination would have been sent straight to the floor for a quick Saturday vote. But there’s more to it than that. Flake strongly implied in his speech Friday that he was acting in concert with other Republicans, who want to vote for Kavanaugh but without the appearance that perhaps the whole thing was unjustly rushed.

As a Republican not seeking re-election, he was the ideal person to force a brief investigation that could persuade Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and possibly even Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that they were doing the right thing in voting for Kavanaugh. Although he surely acted without sanction from other Republicans, there may be a silver lining to his decision if it greases the skids for a quick confirmation vote later this week.

Kavanaugh is likely to be confirmed after this brief delay. There is still, however, one nightmare scenario. If Kavanaugh’s nomination fails and Democrats take over the Senate (not the most likely outcome at this point, but certainly a realistic possibility), and the new Senate majority refuses to confirm any subsequent Trump nominee.

This would result in a 4-4 split on the Supreme Court on some of the most contentious issues that will come before it. Justice Kennedy, despite his moderate reputation, was a key conservative voice and vote on may issues ranging from property rights to religious freedom to freedom of speech to redistricting (which Democrats are very busily trying to game in lower courts even now). Several of these issues will be especially critical in the next few years.

Conservatives are on a bit of a roller coaster at the moment. They risk falling from excitement at their ascendancy on the court to being set back significantly. From the same perspective, left-wingers view it as a last-ditch effort to prevent the court from moving in a more conservative direction. Liberals view the court not just as the last arbitrator of law, but also as an instrument for changing the culture and the nation in their image and likeness. They’re about to lose control. That much hangs on Kavanaugh’s nomination, and that’s why some people are really going crazy over it, and taking actions that would normally be unthinkable.

House 2018

Even as their incumbent senators remain vulnerable, Democrats’ opportunities continue to expand. It’s an increasing problem for Republicans, who are still waiting and looking for something — an event, a backlash, anything — to block the Democrats’ momentum at the House level.

The DCCC has cancelled substantial ad buys against Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, ad Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va. The moves signal apparent confident that they have these seats in hand. And the more they consider won, the more they can dedicate resources to seats that might in other cases be a lot more doubtful.

Meanwhile, they have also gone up with ads on behalf of West Virginia state Sen. Richard Ojeda, D, who is running for the House seat vacated by Rep. Evan Jenkins, the former Republican Senate candidate who just took a seat on the state Supreme Court.

As for incumbents, in the past seven days, the DCCC has made new expenditures against Reps. Mike Bishop, R-Mich., Steve Knight, R-Calif., Mike Coffman, R-Colo., Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., Andy Barr, R-Ky., Scott Taylor, R-Va., John Culberson, R-Texas, Jason Lewis, R-Minn., Mimi Walters, R-Calif., Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., Leonard Lance, R-N.J., John Faso, R-N.Y., Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

That’s 18 incumbents (20 with Blum and Comstock), without even starting to count the additional open seats and newly redistricted seats that Democrats are targeting. NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers has recently admitted, for example, that the party has written off the seat of retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J. And that’s just one.

Republicans are hoping, praying that the storm dies down, and that their defense of vulnerable seats helps them prevent what narrow losses they can.

Senate 2018

Missouri: Attorney General Josh Hawley’s campaign could be described as late-blooming,  but he’s now up with ads and establishing a modest lead in the polls, although none taken by the most reputed non-partisan pollsters.

Hawley remains one of Republicans’ best hopes for a Senate pickup. Sen. Claire McCaskill has fought back by attacking Hawley for his participation in an anti-Obamacare lawsuit. He has pushed back with a super-smiley ad referencing his young son’s pre-existing medical condition. It’s a good ad, the perfect combination of a gentle, positive sell and a slam on his incumbent opponent at the same time.

North Dakota: We anticipated that the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh would give Red State Democrats a ready excuse to vote against him. In the case of Sen. Joe Donnelly, R-Ind., this seems to be the case. But Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has carefully avoided the question. Recent polling in her state definitely favors Kavanaugh’s confirmation — despite its partisan provenance, the gap is wide enough to swallow her Senate seat. What can you say? It isn’t a conservative, pro-Trump state by accident.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., remains a favorite to unseat Heitkamp, however she ends up voting.