‘I think there would be extraordinary anger on the part of Trump’s base…’
(Chris Sommerfeldt, New York Daily News) With new accusations emerging and a potentially explosive showdown looming in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday between Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and sexual assault accuser Christine Blasey Ford, strategists are weighing the fallout from outrage among Republican midterm voters if Democrats manage to bork his confirmation.
“They will portray it as ‘Kavanaugh was sabotaged,’ and the voters will listen,” said Kenneth Kachigian, a longtime campaign strategist who worked in various capacities under Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“They’re not going to be mad at President Trump for putting up a ‘flawed’ candidate, they’ll be upset at Democrats for screwing up the nomination. I think there would be extraordinary anger on the part of Trump’s base.”
Despite decades of silence, Ford a California college professor and anti-Trump activist, now alleges that a 17-year-old Kavanaugh drunkenly forced her into a room at a party while they both attended high school in Maryland in the early 1980s. She says she feared for her life as Kavanaugh pinned her against a bed, tried to remove her clothes and covered her mouth with his hand.
On Sunday, a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, came forward to allege that Kavanaugh, while a freshman undergrad at Yale University, had exposed himself to her during a dorm room party.
In both cases, all of the presumed witnesses named by the accusers have disputed the claims or indicated they were never there.
After a week of stalling and attempting to dictate the terms of the hearing, on Saturday Ford’s lawyers notified Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that she will agree to testify on Thursday.
Kavanaugh himself is also slated to testify at the hearing and will rebut Ford’s claims by providing senators with calendar records he kept from the summer of 1982.
“Republicans will go into this believing that Kavanaugh is a person who has made categorical denials, and so, therefore, having made those they’ll view this as an event in their minds that did not take place,” Kachigian said.
Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton adviser, sought to spin a different narrative, asking GOP counterparts, if torpedoing the Kavanaugh confirmation will benefit them, why wait?
Petkanas said the notion that a Left-orchestrated Kavanaugh routing would result in a red wave was “wishful thinking.”
“If Republicans thought that a Kavanaugh failure would help them in the midterms, they would have pulled him already,” Petkanas said.
Daniel Wessel, a senior operative at the Democratic National Committee, went the other way, echoing a common refrain on the Left that the the FBI should launch a detailed probe into the allegations.
“Instead of doing their jobs and giving the American people the answers they deserve, Senate Republicans have tried to rush through Kavanaugh’s nomination,” Wessel said. “Voters will hold them accountable.”
Such an investigation, Democrats hope, could draw out the hearing until after the midterms, when the they seek to regain control of Congress and have greater ability to thwart the process.
A NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey conducted Sept. 18, two days after Ford went public, showed increasing disapproval of Kavanaugh at 38 percent, up 9 percentage points from the month prior (with the margin of error at 3.27).
The phone survey of 900 registered voters did not specifically mention Ford’s allegations in its question, but many of those numbers appeared to come from the category of voters who previously indicated in August that they did not know enough to decide, which decreased by 9 percentage points as the media bombarded them with salacious details from Ford’s Washington Post account of the high school party.
However, despite the growing opposition, the survey also revealed support for Kavanaugh increasing–albeit at a smaller clip–to 34 percent, resulting in the narrowest margin ever between the two approval numbers since the polling began with Chief Justice John Roberts’ 2005 appointment.
In only one other instance–the appointment of Obama’s first nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, in July 2009–did the number of self-identified uninformed voters dip into the 20th percentile, reflecting the widespread interest surrounding the media circus. Like Kavanaugh, nearly all of Sotomayor’s newly informed voters (10 percent) went directly into the opposition category over the month that her hearing was conducted.
Petkanas said that the #MeToo movement had created a shift in public perception about the gravity of sexual assault allegations against powerful men, which now has spilled over into previously uncharted territory of demanding accountability for their teenage behavior.
He pointed to the 1992 election–which saw Democrats take control of the White House after 12 years of Republican reign–as the “Year of the Woman.” That Democratic landslide, he said, was in part buoyed by Anita Hill’s unsuccessful sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas.
Ironically, voters that year were able to look past the harassment and rape allegations against Bill Clinton, whose sexual proclivities would go on to define his presidency.
Petkanas said women voters could again be a major factor in the upcoming midterms.
“If Kavanaugh is confirmed, that means they have jammed through a credibly accused rapist. If Kavanaugh is withdrawn, they’ve already taken on so much water for presenting a flawed nominee,” Petkanas said. “And this comes in the midst of the MeToo movement. It’s a complete lose-lose situation.”
But women also have played a strong part in Kavanaugh’s support. A CNN focus group of five Republican women last week showed all of them standing behind the judge and expressing no sympathy for his accuser. Moreover, droves of women who personally new Kavanaugh from all different phases of his life have gone on record to vouch for his character and his strong support of women.
Ryan Williams, who served as Mitt Romney’s press secretary during his 2012 presidential run, said the Nov. 6 midterms are light-years away by political standards, noting that the news cycle ensures that “a controversy one week is overshadowed by another controversy the next week.”
One such shift in momentum, Williams said, was the possibility that either Kavanaugh or Ford might give compelling testimony on Thursday–or else present corroborating/exculpatory evidence–that will make an indelible impression.
“If she comes across as credible, persuasive and sincere, it could certainly affect Republican voters,” Williams said. “It would up the stakes in the election.”
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.
©2018 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.