Friday, November 30, 2018

The midterms 2018: Florida, Georgia,
Mississippi and the future

IT’S FINALLY the end of the longest-running midterm election engagement in our modern political history, and the show’s just ended. More than three weeks after the marquee voting results of Election Day Night, returns are still trickling in and adding up. What they’ve been adding up to is Democrats padding their already formidable lead in the House.

On Nov. 26, after more than two weeks of votes being courted, the open House seat in the Utah 4th Congressional District finally went to Democrat Ben McAdams, who defeated incumbent Mia Love, his African American opponent and the first black female Republican elected to Congress. In her concession speech, Love brought out the rhetorical barbed wire, much of it reserved for the head of her party, President* Donald Trump, who shafted her rhetorically from the White House previously for not taking his sterling political advice.

And in the California 21st, on Nov. 26, the pundits finally called a race that was a long time finishing. Democrat T.J. Cox narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Rep. David Valadao by scant hundreds of votes. News organizations held off calling this race for awhile, and with good reason; thanks to absentee and mail-in ballots, the lead changed hands more than once since Election Day. But Cox's win makes him the 40th Democratic pickup of the 2018 midterms, the biggest single flip in the House of Representatives since 1974.

But we’d really been waiting for the outcome of three other races in particular. Florida, Georgia and Mississippi — cradles of the Confederacy, whose voting patterns are political hexadecimal standards for the color of Republican red — finished late and brought the drama with them. Now, like so often in the national past, all three states strained to confront the national future. They’re not doing well at it. The outcomes were almost forgone conclusions, for all the wrong reasons. We knew this was coming, somehow, not least of all because we've been here before.

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Florida, especially. Gov. Rick Scott toughed it out and defeated incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. In that ultimately successful bid, Scott adopted the reflexive Trumpian battle cry of voter fraud! and then impounded voting machines in deeply multicultural Broward County, an outrageous case of voter suppression after the fact (and so recognized by a circuit judge). “If this was happening in any other country the US would be insisting on sending in UN oversight,” RonaldAJCocks tweeted on Nov. 11.

Shortly after Andrew Gillum, the galvanizing African American mayor of Tallahassee, defeated incumbent Rep. Gwen Graham in the Democratic primary for governorship of Florida, the Republican candidate, Ron DeSantis, made his presence known. DeSantis, a white congressman for the state’s 6th Congressional District, sent the people of the Sunshine State a wink of a warning,  whose sub rosa implications couldn’t have been more obvious.

“The last thing we need to do is monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” DeSantis said on Fox News, invoking a racist dog whistle that wasn’t so much a dog whistle as it was a klaxon on a battleship.

DeSantis’ behind-the-hand play for racial solidarity was ultimately rewarded by a loyal GOP base, a time-tested party infrastructure,  and an apparently skeptical electorate (some of whom, it's suspected, didn't tell pollsters the truth about who they planned to vote for). DeSantis defeated Gillum on Nov. 6 by one percentage point, to become Florida’s next governor.

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GEORGIA IS no stranger to voter suppression. Frederick Knight, Associate Professor of History at Morehouse College, noted in Fast Company:

“Georgia, like many southern states, has suppressed black voters ever since the 15th Amendment gave African-American men the right to vote in 1870. ... White paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan and White Leagues threatened black candidates, attacked African-American voters, pushed black leaders out of office ...”

Fast forward to this year. Republican Brian Kemp, the Georgia Secretary of State and a candidate for governor, directed the sidelining of 53,000 voter registration applications, 70 percent of which were from black residents. It took a ruling from a federal judge – who called “differential treatment inflicted on a group of individuals who are predominantly minorities” for what it is — to stop this crap just four days before the election.

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Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s Democratic challenger for the statehouse, launched and maintained a vibrant, diverse, uplifting, genuinely populist campaign that tapped into the need for change in the state’s racially reflexive political foundation.

Abrams, a lawyer, romantic novelist, entrepreneur and Minority Leader of the state House of Representatives, surprised Democrats and Republicans alike with a campaign whose grassroots, ecumenical outreach showed that her appeal was way wider than just those black voters expected to vote for her.

By Election Day Kemp was hearing footsteps; the Abrams crew was serious. The Democrat parlayed a winning personality and inspirational messaging with the smart embrace of a fascinated national news media. Kemp just doubled down on the same dumb tribal ugly he noisily brandished in his campaign ads, replete with shotguns and chain saws.

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ABRAMS AND Kemp were locked in a fight for every last vote. Abrams took an early, sometimes sizable lead in the metro areas. And then history sunk in. It took more than a week for it to happen, but it did.

Like two fighters in the ring, they traded blows, and leads, as provisional and absentee ballots ebbed and flowed for both candidates. Abrams got strong vote from city dwellers, women and independents, and black turnout in her corner was a lock. Kemp made full use of rural voters and any others walking point on Trump Hill.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The midterms 2018: Blue tides

FOR WEEKS, it seems, we’ve been using the shorthand phrase ”blue wave” to describe the long-forecast Democratic victories in the House of Representatives, and it actually worked. That tidy little aquatic metaphor to explain what was coming, or what was anticipated on Election Day 2018, worked fine for the race that was called the night of Nov. 6.

That’s when more than 30 House seats were gained by Democratic candidates, confirming the long-held suspicion of analysts and pundits. But what’s happened since that already historic night has been even more profound. The original phraseology doesn’t work anymore. Not even close.

Thanks to immense grassroots interest in the election; late-arriving absentee, provisional and mail-in ballots; a general exhaustion with the Republican style of rule; and a turnout that suggested people had crossed a mental threshold and decided that voting was, well, cool — the 2018 midterm count wasn’t really evidence of a blue wave. A wave hits once, expends its energy and dissipates. What’s just happened — what’s still happening — has been a series of blue tides, waves that strike a complacent shore again and again, over and over.

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In Arizona on Nov. 12, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema won a close race with Republican Rep. Martha McSally (49.7 percent-48 percent), winning the fight for the Senate seat opened up with the pending retirement of Sen. Jeff Flake. Sinema’s victory, after days of lead changes and late-counted votes, gave Democrats a second Senate pickup.

Sinema, once a Green Party activist in Phoenix, becomes the first woman senator from Arizona, flipping the Grand Canyon State to Democratic for the first time in 30 years — partly through her talent for holding onto longtime Democrats, and attracting moderate Republicans moved and molded by the late Republican Sen. John McCain. It’s called reaching across the aisle.

A lot more’s happened since Nov. 12. In Maine’s 2nd congressional district, Democrat Jared Golden, a former Marine and state lawmaker, beat Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin, the only Republican member of Congress from New England. With Golden’s victory, the entire congressional delegation from the New England states has flipped to solidly Democratic.

And in California, a trifecta has similarly transformed the political map in a very unexpected place. Democratic businessman Harley Rouda, a challenger with deep pockets, dislodged Putin’s congressional poodle, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, ending Rohrbacher’s 15-term grip on power in the California 48.

In the California 45, Democrat Katie Porter, a single mother defeated GOP Rep. Mimi Walters, a Trump acolyte body and soul, by about 3 percentage points (6,200 votes). Porter will join 113 other women in the 116th Congress starting in January.

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PORTER’S VICTORY, confirmed Friday after a slow trickle of late votes, was the penultimate shoe to drop. In the California 39, in the battle to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce, Democratic philanthropist Gil Cisneros has won out over Young Kim, another Trump supporter. According to state data, Cisneros leads Kim by 3,500 votes, or 50.8 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting.

With Cisneros’ win on Saturday evening, Orange County — bastion of conservative identity for two generations, what historian Jon Meacham called the ur-base of Reagan conservatism” — has, completely and improbably, morphed from Republican red to Democratic blue.

It’s the cap on a midterm election that saw 7.9 million more voters pull the levers for Democrats than Republicans. A midterm in which more than 116 million people voted in a national survey whose participation and emotional impact flirted with that of a presidential election.

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IT’S AN AMERICAN truism: Money is the mother’s milk of politics. Republican candidates and the moguls who’ve bankrolled them have long taken that as an article of faith, and spent to win accordingly. This election cycle has been different.

Billionaires like hedge-fund chieftain Tom Steyer and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg pumped tens of millions into the Democratic cause on their own. Coverage of Democratic flanks from such megadonors got a big assist from a funding mechanism that Democrats (most memorably Barack Obama) made full use of in two successful presidential elections:

All hail the small donor, the everyday people whose drops made an ocean of money that swamped GOP fundraising initiatives this year, and which ought to send a warning to Republicans conjuring war plans for 2020: A little money from a lot of people turns into a lot of money, in a hurry.

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Republican seers with vision are learning this from ActBlue, the closest thing Democratic candidates have had to resemble an ATM for serious contenders for the House or Senate. The Massachusetts-based social-technology PAC, started in 2004, uses easily-accessible fundraising software that lets progressives, nonprofits and candidates to raise money with small donors buying in online.

It’s working. Politico reported that ActBlue “funneled over $700 million in small donations to House and Senate candidates over the course of the 2018 campaign.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Politico reported on Nov. 12, “said Republicans were getting swamped in the hunt for online givers and that he has charged his political team with coming up with a solution to enable them to compete in 2020.

“McConnell’s push underscores the urgency confronting Republicans. In race after race, turbocharged liberal donors pumped cash into Democratic coffers — much of it through ActBlue, an easy-to-use site that allows givers to plug in their credit card information and send contributions to their candidate of choice with a click. Republicans have no such centralized fundraising platform.”

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BUT EVEN mother's milk gets you just so far. Sooner or later, it’s not about the money, it’s about the message, and this midterm cycle has seen Democrats stepping up their ground game with enhanced grassroots outreach — an outreach reflected in the dramatically higher numbers of those who turned out to vote.

We’ve seen much higher numbers of women engaged in the process, spurred on in some large measure, no doubt, by the Brett Kavanagh debacle. ActBlue reported on Nov. 15 that “[t]his cycle 60 percent of the millions of donors on ActBuoe identified as women.” That’s a phenomenal civic reflection of outrage and determination the Republicans have absolutely no answer for.

It’s this combination of intention on the part of voters and the never-ending string of unforced errors by the Republicans in general, and President* Trump in particular, that made the still-rolling transformation of the House of Representatives not just possible, but damn near inevitable.

Image credits: Sinema: Rick Scutari/Associated Press. Rouda: screengrab from Rouda website.  Orange County comparison graphic: MSNBC. ActBlue logo: © 2018 ActBlue. Midterm turnout graphic:

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The midterms 2018: Romney's retrofit

AMONG THE fresh-faced freshmen wandering the halls of the Senate in Washington recently was a familiar one, previously experienced in government and, importantly, in politics. His election has mostly managed to fly under the radar, but that won’t last. It cant last. Mitt Romney may want to go back to the future (with some changes from the past).

Romney, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 White House aspirant, defeated Jenny Wilson, his Democratic challenger, in a contest that wasn’t really even close (61 percent to 33 percent). A longtime Utahn, he parlayed that long-term status, and his previous elective and campaign experience, to a big win on Election Night.

“During the next six years, I commit to devote my heart, my mind and my energy to be worthy of the trust that as the voters of Utah have given me,” the senator-elect said in a victory speech at his campaign headquarters — the ritual promise of a newly-elected politician.

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Out of everyone in American politics, and certainly anyone else in the Senate, Romney is the one that President* Trump must necessarily keep a side-eye on at all times. Romney made his missteps in 2012, but since then, he’s positioned himself well — picking his spots, strategically writing op-eds and making targeted comments about House Trump and its policies.

Romney’s been steadily working on a retrofit of the 2012 model Mitt, laying the groundwork for the public to see him as the centrist pragmatist he never was in ’12. He could be the ideal Republican antidote to the poison of the Trump presidency — a palatable alternative to four more years of the tweeter-in-chief.

But if he has any desires to pursue another run for the White House, he’ll have to navigate the elephant’s memory of the voters, who vividly remember another Mitt Romney entirely.

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THERE’S MUCH to recommend the man. Romney would bring experience to bear that Trump can only dream of. One term as governor of the republic of Massachusetts, architect of the template for Obamacare, rescuer of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, successful businessman. He’d be a presumptive shoo-in for the nomination if his political biography ended there.

But of course it doesn’t end there. In several important and disquieting ways, Romney’s history on the campaign trail has interesting parallels with Trump’s own. Never mind the fact that Romney is in lockstep with many of Trump’s policies. Romney in 2012 was his own secretive beast; he claimed that his presumably transformative tax plan couldn’t be scored for its accuracy by tax experts (he made sure of that by refusing to release the details).

Romney released only limited amounts of his tax returns, not understanding that release of those returns was a basic indicator of his belief in transparency in government.

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Then there’s the problem of Romney’s history of somersaults on various important positions. Abortion for example. Romney backed Roe v. Wade and abortion rights in 1993, before running to be governor of Massachusetts. In an October 1994 debate with Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, Romney said Americans should “sustain and support” Roe v. Wade. “I want it to remain the law of the land.”

In March 2002, when he announced plans to run for governor, Romney was full-throated in defending Roe, saying “I will protect the right of a woman to choose.” Then in June 2007 he began his presidential campaign and all but swore fealty to the anti-abortion cause at the National Right to Life Convention. Then in December 2011, he told Fox News that “I will support [Roe v. Wade] and preserve the law as it exists.”

Then in March 2012, Romney said he’d “get rid” of Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion counseling and a broad range of women’s health services — an implicit rejection of those services and Roe v. Wade itself. Trump’s been no less elusive, and no more conclusive.

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ROMNEY jumped on the birther train (like Trump), wrongly calling President Obama’s national origin into question, and cementing that malignant catechism in the Republican campaign playbook. In all the ways that mattered, Romney jumped in and out of a position on everything under the sun; he was topically inconsistent, thematically unreliable. On the things that mattered to Americans, we couldn’t be sure which Mitt Romney would show up and stay put.

It was the kind of situational politics that already led Erick Erickson, editor of RedState, to write in late 2011 that Romney “is a man devoid of any principles other than getting himself elected. As much as the American public does not like Barack Obama, they loath a man so fueled with ambition that he will say or do anything to get himself elected. Mitt Romney is that man.”

Monday, November 12, 2018

The midterms 2018: Scott Walker’s longish goodbye

EVEN THE savviest of politician, the most adept wingwalker seeking election or re-election, can only defy convention and perform the act of levitation for just so long. Sooner or later, the politician’s sway over the gravitational pull of modern American politics begins to fade ... before shorting out altogether.

When that happens, your legacy (to the extent that you’ve got one) starts to come undone, supporters pray for a remedy, and you’re about to wear your ass for a hat. When that happens ... you’re Scott Walker on Election Night.

Walker, the much-embattled Republican governor of Wisconsin for eight years, went down to defeat on Nov. 6, losing a deeply-flawed campaign to Democratic challenger Tony Evers by fewer than 2 points (about 31,000 votes overall).

“[T]hank you to the voters of the great State of Wisconsin,” Walker said via a magnanimous, valedictory press release on Election Night. “It has been my honor to serve as your Governor for nearly eight years. We’ve come a long way together and it is my sincere hope that the progress we’ve made during our time in office will continue and that we can keep Wisconsin working for generations to come.”

Making matters worse (or certainly more deliciously ironic): Despite the closeness of the outcome, Walker can’t sue for a recount because of a law Walker himself signed setting the recount threshold at less than 1 percent. Walker lost by 1.2 percent.

That was the sour, ironical grace note for a political career gone wrong. It was all a huge comedown for a politician once held up as the Republican golden boy, bruited in some circles as presidential material. But the outcome on Election Night was probably to be expected. As much or more than any politician to precede Donald Trump in elective office, Scott Walker made enemies early and often.

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Not long after Walker was elected in 2010, he advanced a “budget repair” bill intended to balance the state’s $3.6 billion deficit in part by stripping the rights of about 170,000 public-service employees to collective bargaining for wages and other benefits.

The bill was legislation with the power to adversely affect union contributions from members of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, founded in Madison in 1936), SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and the state’s Education Association Council, the state teachers union that has injected more than $10 million into Democratic state races over the previous decade.

State workers gathered for weeks at the Capitol in Madison to protest the bill, with an uncommon populist energy.

After a long impasse with a group of boycotting Democratic senators whose absence postponed his legislation, Walker, with the help of GOP state senators, employed legalistic gymnastics to take a vote without the absent Democrats, and signed the bill into law, stripping unions of collective bargaining rights on matters of pensions and health care, limits pay raises of public employees to the rate of inflation, and ends automatic collection of union dues by the state.

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ACT 10 was a devastating defeat for union members and Wisconsin’s progressive community in general, and it all happened in the state that practically birthed the concept of collective bargaining, unemployment compensation and other workers’ rights.

A recall effort started almost immediately. It failed, leaving Walker in charge in the statehouse. But Act 10 and its aftermath of bad feeling was only one of Walker’s unforced errors. I wrote in March 2011: “To judge from the consistently passionate, engaged and generally peaceful protests of the last three weeks, what’s been awakened in Wisconsin is a new surge of populism on behalf of fundamental American workers’ rights.”

Walker's been paying for that populist surge ever since. The Badger State went big for President Obama in 2012, no doubt in large part as a payback reaction to Walker’s anti-labor initiative.

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Then, for reasons known only to him and God, Walker undertook a bid for the 2016 Republican nomination in June 2015. It didn't last.

“Today I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race so that a positive, conservative message can rise to the top of the field,” he said in September 2015, ending a feckless 71-day campaign. Walker was doomed as much by an outsize field of candidates (including one deep-pocketed, nihilistic attention enthusiast named Donald Trump) and no overarching message — no real reason to run — that could have lifted him above the rest.

“I do think the real turning point was his decision to run for president,” Former conservative radio host Charlie Sykes told the Wisconsin State Journal web site. “You did sense that his focus and the momentum he had as governor was dissipated.”

Fast forward to Election Night.

Image credits: Walker top: Screengrab from New York Times video. Walker at podium: The Associated Press.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The midterms 2018: The state of Texas

TEXAS doesn’t swing like a pendulum do — not politically anyway. One of the few states Republicans can count on like the sunrise, the Lone Star State has a political climate as reliable, or predictable, as the weather.

But the midterms just ended in Texas reflected a crossfire hurricane like never before. The storm of Hurricane Beto and its aftermath will be giving the state’s political meteorologists many sleepless nights between now and 2020.

When the smoke cleared by early Wednesday, Nov. 7, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz had won re-election, defeating his game challenger, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, by 2.6 percentage points — maybe 220,000 votes statewide. That outcome was pretty much expected; what left a lot of people closing their jaws with both hands was the margin of victory.

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Winning Texas shoulda been a slam-dunk for Cruz, an incumbent with name recognition and, ergo, someone with the built-in advantages of the office he already holds (and the presumed advantages of being in the same party as President* Trump).

The fact that it wasn’t is more a reflection of how Texans feel about Cruz than how they feel about Trump (one of the reasons why this midterm election wasn’t necessarily a referendum on Trump). The outcome also looked like a vote for Republican representation in the Senate more than a vote for Cruz.

The incumbent is widely disliked as a personality, even within the Senate. O’Rourke exploited that fact throughout the year. O’Rourke conducted a brilliant campaign, visiting each of Texas’ 254 counties, galvanizing the grassroots as a candidate whose hands-on, deeply retail outreach energized Texas Democrats like no one before him.

O’Rourke brought a raw, unschooled, freshman energy to the midterm campaign. His answers to media and the public weren't fully scripted, his presentation on the stump hardly manicured. But O’Rourke made up for the relative absence of grooming with a surplus of passion and sincerity. Despite his relatively narrow loss, O’Rourke gave Cruz all he could handle, and injected himself into the 2020 conversation in ways no one expected. Maybe not even him.

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O’ROURKE’S ascension is one indicator of how Texas is changing, politically and demographically. The population is of course browner than it’s ever been, with Latino voters continuing the inroads they’ve been making for years. Spanish is spoken by about 30 percent of the state’s population, estimated at 28.7 million people. Which is no coincidence.

The Texas Tribune reported in June: “For many years, the prospect that Hispanics would become the state’s largest population group has been a question of 'when’  and not 'if.’

“With growth among the Hispanic population in Texas continuing to easily outpace growth among white Texans, it’s likely the state will reach that demographic milestone as soon as 2022,” The Tribune reported, citing figures from the state’s top demographer and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Not for nothing did O’Rourke (from El Paso) make good use of his very very fluent Spanish at campaign rallies all year.

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There's also a youthquake under way. As Texas develops a variety of new businesses and its own high-tech enclaves — Silicon Gulch? — younger people are moving in.

In a September study of young-voter registration data, TargetSmart, an organization that surveys voter trends, found that voter registrations in Texas increased by 1.2 percent — a significant number when extrapolated to the state’s overall population. That gets you more than 344,000 new young voters in the state, a lot of whom almost certainly pulled the Beto lever on Election Day.

And it’s also just about business. Texas is wooing some of the biggest names in business. Walmart and Microsoft just announced a joint engineering office set to open in ever-blue Austin sometime in 2019, Dallas News reported last week.

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“Jobs are at the core of it. There is certainly employment opportunity here,” Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter said in a pre-election interview with USNews & World Report. "If you are living in California and are offered a job in Texas, [even for] less money, you could probably see more money than if you were working in California.”

Whatever it is that’s sparking the transition, it’s not going away any time soon. Beto O’Rourke is very well poised to reap the benefits of this change in the state of Texas. He and the newly emboldened Texas Democrats are in a position to transform the state’s political reality, and sooner rather than later.

Cruz and the Republicans dodged a bullet this election. The future won’t be so charitable again.

Image credits: O'Rourke: via ABC News. Population graph: The Texas Tribune. TargetSmart logo: © 2018 TargetSmart.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The midterms 2018: The macro view

EARLY reports characterizing the voters who turned out on Tuesday have been quick to frame the overall election results as a tie, with more or less equal advantages for Democrats and Republicans alike. Much of the media breathlessly bought into this narrative. But after a closer breakdown of who turned out on Tuesday, it’s clear that, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s long-ago observation, reports of a stalemate in the 2018 midterm election are greatly exaggerated.

In all the cohorts that matter, the Democrats expanded the electorate. The Republicans did exactly the opposite. That’s why the Democrats carried the day. The outcome of the election should be a wake-up call for Republicans eager to be competitive in 2020.

All in all, Democrats gained 31 seats in the House of Representatives, well above the 23 needed to control the chamber. And Democrats captured 323 state legislative seats, six state legislative chambers and seven governorships. Dems flipped three state Supreme Court seats, and shattered GOP state Senate supermajorities. “Stalemate”? “Gridlock”? One begs to differ.

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Let’s break it down, category by category, starting with younger voters. According to estimates by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, “roughly 31% of youth (ages 18-29) turned out to vote in the 2018 midterms, an extraordinary increase over our estimate in 2014.”

“We estimate that this is by far the highest level of participation among youth in the past quarter century—the last seven midterm elections during which we’ve been using this same calculation method,” CIRCLE reported on Nov. 7. “The 31% turnout estimate represents millions more young people casting votes in yesterday’s election, compared to who voted in 2014.”

There’s any number of reasons. It didn’t hurt that millennial culture icons like Rihanna and Taylor Swift came out early calling for young people to register. But also, younger voters were apparently motivated by a broad range of social issues, including gun control, the economy, and a desire to stop President Trump from breaking the constitutional furniture.

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WHATEVER it was worked. "In an overwhelming number of races, according to the exit polls, the Democrats won the younger vote – folks under the age of 45 – and they lost folks over the age of 45," John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, told USNews & World Report.

CIRCLE data support Della Volpe’s assessment: 67 percent of young voters went for a Democratic House candidate, while 32 percent voted for a Republican House candidate — a divergence of affiliation that’s held true in CIRCLE data since 2002.

"This was very much, I think, for young people, a rebuke of the first two years of an administration that they don't see as sharing their values," Della Volpe says.

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Let’s look at the racial breakdown of midterm voters. Citing exit polls, Pew Research Center reports that “Blacks overwhelmingly voted (90%) for the Democratic candidate [in their district], including comparable shares of black men (88%) and black women (92%).

“As was the case in the 2016 presidential election, white men voted Republican by a wide margin (60% to 39%) while white women were divided (49% favored the Democratic candidate; as many supported the Republican),” according to Pew Research Center.

A Pew poll from Nov. 2, four days before the election, found the likelihood of the same results among Latino voters. “More Hispanic registered voters say they have given ‘quite a lot’ of thought to the upcoming midterm elections compared with four years ago and are more enthusiastic to vote this year than in previous congressional elections,” Pew reported.

Sentiments are more concrete among Latino registered voters, but no different in the allegiance they reflect. “Hispanic registered voters affiliate with the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by a more than two-to-one margin,” Pew reported on Nov. 2.

“About six-in-ten Hispanic voters (62%) identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with 27% who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. These shares have remained steady since the last midterm election.”

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WOMEN? According to Pew data, “women college graduates stand out for their strong preference for the Democratic candidate [in their districts] (59% favored the Democrat while just 39% voted Republican). Whites with less education – particularly men – supported the Republican. White men who do not have a college degree voted Republican by about two-to-one (66% to 32%).

“Women favored the Democratic candidate in their district by 19 percentage points (59% to 40%) while men voted for the Republican 51% to 47%.”

It’s disparities like these that had a lot to do with the outcome of Tuesday’s election. Republican analysts and strategists have a lot to think about in the wake of the midterm vote.

The task of closing or at least narrowing the gulfs between one cohort of American life and another, between one style of governance and another, should keep them busy for some time to come — specifically, the 726 days until the next election.

Image credits: Latino registered voters chart and Pew Research Center logo: © 2018 Pew Research Center. Youth voting preference chart and CIRCLE logo: © 2018 Tufts University.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The midterms 2018:
Presidential license to run roughshod revoked

IN RECENT WEEKS, President* Trump has worried and worried about a caravan of thousands upon thousands of people coming from the southern hemisphere to disrupt the American status quo. He might have paid more attention to the caravan of disrupters that’s been here for years and years.

The midterm elections just ended on Tuesday showed almost 100 million Americans casting ballots, voting with intensity approaching a presidential election, voting for a change from the unilateral, tirelessly transactional policies of the Trump White House. That change couldn’t be more obvious. On Election Day, voters launched Democratic lawmakers into power, recapturing the House of Representatives and gaining favorable outcomes in several state races.

The big-picture playbook went pretty much as expected, with Dems regaining the House for the first time in eight years, and Republicans holding on to the Senate. But old pieties went down to defeat. Efforts to advance the Dems’ more publicly egalitarian aspects were successful: The voters sent two Muslim American women — Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib — to Congress, in a time that couldn’t be more antagonistic to Muslim identity. Starting next year they’ll join more than 100 other women in Congress, a new record.

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For the first time, two Native American women, Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico, were elected to the House; In Colorado, Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor; two Latino women were elected to represent a state with a history of oppressing Latinos. And throughout the evening, newcomer after newcomer played a role in renewing the government’s compact with its people — and correcting the badly rewritten rulebook Donald Trump’s tried to impose on all of us.

By any reasonable metric, and despite the minimizing you’ll hear from conservative pundits, Tuesday was a huge day for Democratic candidates and the Americans who believe in the Democratic governing philosophy. Democrats engaged in wistful talk of a “blue wave” for the elections. Candidates won and candidates lost, but the blue wave that matters is the wave of diversity — racial and gender, cultural and experiential — that defined the elections that just took place.

On Tuesday, the country finally began to get serious about the erosion of voting rights and the rise of partisan gerrymandering. And Democrats expanded the ranks of governors, that tier of state leaders that form the seed bed of future national leaders (since a governor runs 2 percent of the country already).

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THERE WERE Democratic disappointments. Andrew Gillum, the disarmingly accessible son of a bus driver who rose to become mayor of Tallahassee, lost in his bid to be governor of Florida. In Texas, the wildly successful grassroots insurgent campaign of Robert Francis O’Rourke — “Beto” to his friends and seemingly everyone in America — came up short on Tuesday. O’Rourke lost by 3 points to incumbent, Sen. Ted Cruz, whose win Tuesday cemented Republican control of the Senate.

But even in a defeat there’s reason to be upbeat. Gillum narrowly lost to Republican Ron DeSantis by less than one percentage point in a reliably conservative state that Trump won handily in 2016. O’Rourke’s campaign, which captured the imagination of the national media and the culture at large, almost single-handedly defibrillated the hopes and aspirations of Texas Democrats, whom it’s safe to say haven’t had a lot to look forward to in recent years.

Tuesday’s results yielded surprise Democratic wins in several predominantly-Republican House precincts: The Michigan 8th House district, the New York 11 and 19, the Oklahoma 5, the South Carolina 1 or the Illinois 14.

And at this writing, the day after the vote, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small is poised to win the House seat for the New Mexico 2nd House district. She’d be the first woman to represent the district since its formation in 1969.

◊ ◊ ◊

Hidden in the results, the interstitial message in everything that happened on Tuesday, is the signal sent to the president*, whether he chooses to receive it or not. The balance of power has shifted in Washington, and what for him to this point had been a license to run roughshod over the Constitution has been revoked. The presumably activist Democratic House (taking office on Jan. 3) will make a point of holding Trump’s feet to the constitutional fire — and of making use of the oversight responsibility that’s the province of the House of Representatives.

Some reporters have been asking the wrong question of these soon-to-be-freshmen in the House: Will they pursue an agenda that focuses on health care and the economy — the two paramount concerns of voters on Election Day — OR will they go after House Trump with bared teeth and brandished subpoenas, eager to finally press Trump on violations of campaign and constitutional law?

The question, asked more than a few times already, assumes the next House of Representatives will only be capable of doing one thing to the exclusion of anything else. It’s a backhanded insult to a class of House newcomers that hasn’t even gathered for its group picture yet. The next House knows good and well: the answer to that question isn’t an either/or construct, it’s both/and. The next House will be ready to do the people’s business on health care matters, jobs and the steady state of the economy.

But the House of Representatives 2019 — representing the caravan of American voters in search of action and accountability — will also be set to engage the Trump White House, confronting the national pre-existing condition of a megalomaniac whose hostile takeover of the United States government and our collective sense of well-being makes opposition to him less an option and more an existential requirement, not so much a matter of party politics as a matter of self-preservation.

Image credits: Gillum: Colin Hackley/Reuters. Omar: @JordanUhl. Trump: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters vi The Daily Beast.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The red non-wave

IN THE WAKE of the divisive confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to be a justice on the Supreme Court, the emerging pre-election Republican catechism has it that conservatives and the Republican base are “energized,” “awakened” or (borrowing a phrase that originated with President Obama) “fired up” and ready for the vote 26 days from today.

That renewed sense of the possible is reinforced by new polling that shows the storied “enthusiasm gap” — that ephemeral snapshot of voter passion, rather than voter conviction — has narrowed, with more Republican voters now champing at the bit to go to the polls in November.

But several things complicate that rosy picture for the GOP. The first is that rhetoric from conservative analysts and pundits suggests a course of action that would play out even if Republican voters weren’t “energized” about the midterms. As a rule, Republican voters don’t stay at home on Election Day. It’s one of their defining characteristics.

◊ ◊ ◊

An internal survey conducted in September for the Republican National Committee, and obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek, came to that conclusion: “Republicans don’t have a ‘base problem.’ Those voters who strongly approve of the President and those who support both his policies and leadership style are genuinely passionate about voting in the election and are voting GOP lock, stock and barrel.”

Consider the more antecedent research of Karl Rove, Bush 43 senior adviser, writing in 2015 in The Wall Street Journal: “The number of self-identified conservative voters rose to about 45.2 million in 2012 from 30.6 million in 2000. And the number of conservatives voting for the Republican presidential candidate rose to about 37.1 million in 2012 from 25.1 million in 2000.”

It’s an American political truism: Republican voters show up. GOP voters tend to be older, whiter, wealthier and more traditional by every conventional metric. For them, voting is a civic reflex; not voting is not an option.

◊ ◊ ◊

THAT UNDERCUTS the building narrative of a red wave of apparently undiscovered voters in November. Republican strategists are talking about the same body of voters that presumably wasn’t “fired up” before. Those GOP voters were going to show up anyway, “fired up” or not. They always have and probably always will.

So the talk that these newly galvanized conservative voters are somehow separate and distinct from less impassioned voters already planning to vote is to conjure a distinction without a difference. The narrowed “enthusiasm gap” between Dems and Republicans is a hollow measurement because it buys into the idea of there being a difference between one group of Republican voters and another, when in fact it’s the same cohort of voters.

The second thing complicating the red-wave vision is the long-time imbalance between registered Democrats and registered Republicans, a numerical fact of our politics that’s endured for years. To go by party registration, there are more Democrats in the electorate than Republicans, and as many or more independent voters than either Democrats or Republicans. And a party affiliation study the Pew Research Center released last month found that Democrats enjoyed an advantage, by a lot or a little, among independent voters asked to describe which way they “lean.”

A similar Pew survey in September 2016 found much the same thing. “Overall, 48% of all registered voters identify as Democrats or lean Democratic compared with 44% who identify as Republican or lean toward the GOP.” The Pew report found favorable associations with Democrats and the Democratic cause among women, college graduates, millennials, Gen-Xers, minority voters, Jewish voters, the religiously unaffiliated, and white voters with post-graduate experience.

It’s contrarian, to say the least, to assume that this ongoing trend will reverse or mitigate itself for the midterm elections.

◊ ◊ ◊

THIRD: DESPITE how politically inflamed and culturally combustible the Republican base might be, that base isn’t growing appreciably in size, not getting bigger or wider in the numbers it needs to sustain itself. Various Republican seers have couched this as an election that's “neck and neck,” a characterization that ignores not just the numbers and the politics of the moment, but also the reality of the nation, on the broader scale of the national time.

With every election cycle, midterm or general, the Republicans are doubling down on a population of voters that’s shrinking as older voters die and younger voters less committed to (or more alienated from) the Republican agenda drift away — either to join the Democrats or to share the status of independent voters.

The Brookings Institution observed this in June: “A political party that can’t attract young people, especially in a generation that is as big as the Millennial generation—America’s largest demographic group—is not a party with a very bright future. So although Trump, while focusing on the base, has made the Republican Party his, come November it may not be as much of an advantage.”

◊ ◊ ◊

The fourth matter is specific to this election cycle, and may be the most important. The outcome of the Kavanaugh exercise in naked political greed has left women voters raw and righteously angry. It’s a safe bet that if rank & file Republicans are energized, vast numbers of women across the demographic spectrum are even more so: dismayed at how their life stories, their collective histories could be so blithely ignored by a Republican president many of them helped to elect, and a Republican congressional leadership they supported by association.

There’s not a reason on earth to expect them to forget what’s just happened with the Kavanaugh affair. And with a multitude of female candidates (many of them Democrats) mounting serious bids for a variety of offices, including House and Senate, those woman voters have choices now that they didn’t have before. They’ve got the option to vote for candidates that reflect and share their struggles and experiences.

Sure as the sunrise, they’ll be exercising that option in droves less than four weeks from today.

◊ ◊ ◊

The latest polling bears these points out. CNN’s newest poll results, released on Tuesday, find the Democrats holding a 30-point advantage with women voters, with 63 percent of women planning to vote for Democratic candidates. When asked their impression of the newest Supreme Court justice, only 29 percent of women voters in the survey had a positive impression of Kavanaugh, compared to a 53 percent negative impression.

Disdain for the Republicans isn’t gender specific. That same CNN survey finds Democrats of either gender with a 13-point bulge over Republicans in a generic House ballot. And the “enthusiasm gap”? If you believe in it, there’s other polling that shows how durably granular, state by state, that disdain has been so far.

According to the latest Marist Poll for Wisconsin, a battleground for real, “three in four registered voters statewide, including 87% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans, say they consider this year’s midterm elections to be very important.”

◊ ◊ ◊

IT'S MUCH the same in Nevada. Marist’s new (Oct. 10) survey for the state found sentiment that’s demographically panoramic in a way that should give Republicans pause. “Voters under the age of 45 (60%), women, (60%), and white voters with a college degree (52%) are among those most likely to say they plan to send a message that more Democrats are needed to balance the power of President Trump.”

This election season has had its share of prognosticators debating the likelihood of waves red and blue, but few have the gravitas of Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, and a longtime veteran of many an election. Sabato said it plain this week on MSNBC.

“I think they know that even if the Republicans hold the senate, given the very pro-Republican map that exists, President Trump is in trouble in some of these states,” Sabato said. “He’s fallen considerably in approval, and the Midwest as a whole seems to be flipping in the midterm year. The states that he carried are getting ready, it appears to either elect Democratic senators or Democratic governors, or both.”

◊ ◊ ◊

“Those tariffs seem to be hurting people in the Midwest more than other regions,” Sabato said Tuesday. “The Midwesterners may not react as well to some of the things President Trump says and does. ... This also reminds us that 2016 was a choice. It wasn’t simply that people decided to vote for Donald Trump in a vacuum. Many of them were voting against Hillary Clinton. Maybe you dispute the premise of it, but essentially it’s a two-pronged decision. ...

“If there’s ever been an abnormal presidency, we’re in it. Trump has violated so many of the rules of politics and so many of the norms of politics, that we hesitate to say, ‘well, history shows us that X will happen, therefore it will happen under Trump ...

“But ... a red wave ain’t gonna happen. It’s just a question of how big the blue wave is. It could be a tsunami, it could be a middle-sized wave, it could be a small wave but there’s going to be a blue wave ...”

Image credits: Party affiliation chart and logo: © 2018 Pew Research Center.  Kavanaugh: tk.  CNN logo" © 2018 CNN. Marist Poll logo: © 2018 Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

‘Indelible in the hippocampus’:
Kavanaugh and America

IT WAS the closest thing this country’s had to a communal experience about men and women and power and rape, and we got it the way we seem to like it, boiled down, distilled, soundbitten for your convenience. It was all over the country, on smartphones and tablets, watched on subways and airline seatbacks, cafes and bars. We tuned into it collectively; it was like what people did back in the wartime forties, when everyone’s radio was tuned to the heavyweight championship fight. It was an event, it was a moment, it was history. It was everything, everything, except a conversation.

A great fight card came together on Sept. 27, and for the promoters responsible for the bout, collectively called the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was all pretty much a sure thing. Some palooka outta California, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, dared to go up against the golden boy, Brett Michael Kavanaugh. This was gonna be good.

That, more or less, was the expectation. When it was over, the calculus by which Americans suspended their disbelief had changed — the doctor from Cali won on points with them, going away — but the machinations of a ruthlessly partisan Republican congressional leadership were consistent to the end.

◊ ◊ ◊

Now, with “Justice Kavanaugh” as a phrase we’ll be saddled with for the indefinite future, you can’t help but look back at how we got here. Even with a short-term perspective of days and weeks, we can see how this was more than the agony of memory, legislative agendas and jockeying for political leverage. The enduring power of the Kavanaugh affair isn’t found in its literality, in what it was. What will endure is what it means and what it says: about this nation, its future, its women and its people.

Blasey, who spoke first before the committee, was asked by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy to recall and describe the strongest memory from the night that Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her. She did so, introducing a word that imparted a forensic poetry to what would become an otherwise brutal recitation of conservative grievance.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” Blasey said, voice breaking as she described her victimization. “The uproarious laughter between the two. They're having fun at my expense.”

The word “hippocampus” refers to the ridges in the lateral ventricles of the human brain, and is believed to be the seat of memory and emotion tin the human body, but she might as well have been talking about something bigger, wider, more national in scope. She could be referencing the national memory bank.

◊ ◊ ◊

ONE THING for sure: The memory bank of the Democratic leadership wasn’t working. The effort to stop Kavanaugh was hampered by too long and deep a look in the rear-view mirror. Blasey’s allegations were utterly necessary to be heard; the FBI investigation that ensued deserved more than the limits imposed by the Trump White House, operational handcuffs that rendered that investigation almost nonexistent in real terms.

But the bid to stop Kavanaugh’s appointment was one-dimensional. From almost the beginning, the Democrats framed the possible confirmation of Kavanaugh as a battle against the judge as a teenager who got away with sexual assault, as a juvenile whose escapades were possibly criminal. Over time, it seemed, there was no other calculus, nothing else of any importance to be brought to bear in the discussion. Kavanaugh’s situational tolerance for women and their reproductive rights was the crux of the debate.

Not enough was said during or after the hearings about Kavanaugh’s proven occasions with perjury: His embroideries at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s most recent hearing, and at hearings in 2004 and 2006.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Kavanaugh: Trump backs away

A FEW MONTHS ago, it was all going according to plan. President* Trump had anointed his golden boy, Brett Michael Kavanaugh, to be the next Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Trump had already praised Kavanaugh to the skies. “Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law,” Trump said from the East Room of the White House, on July 9.

Kavanaugh, a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, did the walkabout to lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill as if ordained. They did everything but trot him around in a sedan chair. “We're going to have a thorough process. Hopefully it's efficient, we get it done quickly,” said Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee chairman. “In the end, I think his record will speak for itself.”

But things have changed. Thanks to allegations from (at this writing) no fewer than five presumably credible accusers, including Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Sept. 27 — and the nominee’s own previous embroideries of the truth, the Supreme Court nomination of Kavanaugh is in trouble.

If you wanted to confirm that, read the statements from the man who nominated him, Trump himself. Read closely.

◊ ◊ ◊

On Twitter on Sept. 24, at the UN General Assembly in New York, Trump called Kavanaugh “a wonderful man, and a man who has the potential to be one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices ever.”

Trump called Kavanaugh “a fine man with an unblemished past and these are highly unsubstantiated statements from people represented by lawyers,” adding later that it would “be sad indeed” if he’s prevented from serving on the nation’s highest court.

Note the hedging, conditional language there: Kavanaugh is “a man who has the potential” to join the court, and it would “be sad indeed” if he didn’t.

◊ ◊ ◊

IF THAT wasn’t enough, on Wednesday, Sept. 26, the president* was asked about whether he might be persuaded to withdraw Kavanaugh's nomination. Trump said: “If I thought he was guilty of something like this ... yeah, sure.”

And he spoke about the hearings that have just started. “I'm going to see what happens tomorrow. I'm going to be watching,” Trump said. “I'm going to see what's said. It's possible they will be convincing.”

“You know what? I can be persuaded also,” Trump continued. “I can't tell you if they're liars until I hear them. ... I can be convinced of anything.”

I can be persuaded. I can be convinced of anything. You don’t need to put the message on a sandwich board for it to be perfectly clear: Kavanaugh’s status in jeopardy and The Don is throwing him under the bus in slow motion.

Much will depend on how well Blasey Ford performs; sometimes the best laid plans of witnesses come undone under the withering glare of a Senate committee. But if the doctor is even remotely credible in her full testimony, and she probably will be, Trump would do well to start doing what for him has been unimaginable: Imagining some other candidate for the Supreme Court.

Image credits: Kavanaugh: via The Root.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Another matter entirely:
Brett Kavanaugh's new brush with the past

MUCH OF the current hue and cry over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s possible confirmation to the United States Supreme Court hinges on his credibility in the face of allegations from Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor and research psychologist, concerning an alleged sexual assault back in the 80’s, when she was a student at Holton-Arms School and Kavanaugh was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School, in Maryland.

By now, courtesy of Emma Brown’s Sept. 16 story in The Washington Post, you know the particulars: “Earlier this summer, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. ...

“Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend — both ‘stumbling drunk,’ Ford alleges — corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County.

◊ ◊ ◊

“While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.”

Blasey, who eventually came forward identifying herself as the author of the letter, told The Post that she “thought he might inadvertently kill me. He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Kavanaugh has denied the allegations root and branch. In a statement released last week, the judge said “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” A man believed to be a witness to the event, the filmmaker and author Mark Judge, has denied Blasey’s assertions in rather expansive terms, and has denied knowing anything about the party.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine spoke to reporters on Sept. 17, saying that if Kavanaugh wasn’t being truthful about these allegations, “that would be disqualifying.” The right-wing brain of the punditocracy has similarly suggested the same thing, confident that Kavanaugh's denials would carry the day.

◊ ◊ ◊

BUT THE larger, more panoramic problem for the Republicans vis-à-vis Kavanaugh the nominee has been playing itself out for weeks. If the nominee’s truthfulness is the tripwire for disqualification, Kavanaugh may have already dealt himself a fatal blow.

The attention rightly paid to the Blasey-Kavanaugh dispute is one thing. What’s been somewhat overlooked by comparison is the assertion, based on reporting from several sources, that Kavanaugh has lied in Senate testimony, previously and before the very committee convened to determine his fitness for the Supreme Court.

Jeremy Stahl’s story in Slate on Sept. 12 is valuably comprehensive in exploring Kavanaugh’s apparent perjuries before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s most recent hearing earlier this month, and at hearings in 2004 and 2006.

And Pima Levy and Dan Friedman of Mother Jones were just as good in their exhaustive Sept. 6 story documenting Kavanaugh’s mistruths going back to 2002 and 2003, when he was a Bush White House lawyer, one who extracted information from documents belonging to the staff of Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, a committee member — despite denials by Kavanaugh that he ever received it. The Mother Jones story also explores Kavanaugh’s apparent misstatements concerning his knowledge of the Bush 44 warrantless wiretapping program and torture policy (in 2006).

◊ ◊ ◊

The bottom line: Kavanaugh may be able to refute Blasey’s assertions about a long-ago incident at a party in Maryland, but that incident, whether it happened or not, pales (chronologically speaking) in comparison with the contemporaneous allegations that Kavanaugh lied as recently as weeks ago — in his testimony before the judiciary committee.

Lying about something that happened 30-odd years ago, tree-ring time, is one thing. It’d be another mountainous challenge to Kavanaugh’s nomination if he were also found to have perjured himself this year, or this month, about other matters pertinent to his character and honesty and qualifications.

Hopefully, Collins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Sen. Jeff Flake of Nevada, and any other Republican senators seeking the truth in the Kavanaugh matter — or cover from their possible intent to vote against him — already recognize that Kavanaugh’s nomination needn’t hinge on any one thing. It could and probably should rest on a combination of matters, including previous deceptions that would seem to be just as disqualifying as anything related to Blasey’s allegations.

◊ ◊ ◊

THE COMMITTEE hearing scheduled for Sept. 20 has been pushed back; Republicans have offered to hear from Blasey on Wednesday, Sept. 26. Blasey's attorney, Debra Katz, told the Judiciary Committee on Sept. 20 that Blasey would appear for a Capitol Hill hearing if senators provide “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety.” The Trump administration now confronts a challenge unlike anything it’s previously encountered.

Facing the certainly damaged and possibly doomed nomination of a singularly compromised candidate for the country’s highest court, House Trump is pushing against a growing chorus of opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination. New polling finds public support for Kavanaugh hasn't just stalled but gone in reverse.

Choosing to die on Kavanaugh Hill risks alienating millions of the same suburban white women, seniors, independents and women over 50 who helped power Trump to the White House in 2016, and whose votes will also figure in how well, or poorly, Republicans do in the midterms seven weeks away. That’s option one.

Or (option two) Trump can come to grips with the declining return on investment he’s realizing with this flawed choice for the Supreme Court — he can admit a momentary defeat — and pick someone else. For the president*, one choice is unpalatable, the other is anathema.

◊ ◊ ◊

For an electorate that’s getting more restive, and a base that’s maybe more and more complacent in the face of Trump’s antics, neither option is exactly a confidence builder. One’s still better than the other, albeit not by much.

But Senate Republicans don’t have the luxury of looking at Kavanaugh’s obstacles in isolation; the nominee’s been shown to have lied or otherwise smudged the truth earlier in his judicial career, and he’s in the hot seat now for possibly having lied about his high school past. And practically speaking, it makes no sense for Blasey to volunteer to turn her life and her family’s life upside down for the sake of pursuing a decades-old lie.

In a tweet that smartly distills the issue in terms anyone can understand, Steve Schmidt, a former Republican campaign manager and current Republican apostate, asked the questions that the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee have to ask themselves, hard, over this coming weekend:

“Riddle me this. If someone is lying (Dr. Ford) and they know that lying to the FBI is a crime, why would they be asking for an FBI investigation? If a sitting Federal Judge is accused of something he denies with his reputation at stake, why wouldn’t he demand one?”

Guaranteed: Suburban women voters have been asking themselves those questions too.

◊ ◊ ◊

IN A MARCH 2015 speech, speaking at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law, Kavanaugh made a curious comment whose implied borderline anti-social context obliquely reinforced the idea that, hey, boys will be boys, some boundaries just don’t exist for some people. Some rules don't apply.

“By coincidence three classmates of mine at Georgetown Prep were graduates of this law school in 1990 and are really, really good friends of mine,” said the judge.

“Fortunately, we've had a good saying that we've held firm to this day, as the dean was reminding me before the talk, which is ‘What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.’

“That's been a good thing for all of us I think.”

There may be no one in the country who wishes that were true more than Brett Kavanaugh.

Except maybe Donald Trump.

Image credits: Kavanaugh: Columbus School of Law. Blasey: The Ford family.
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