Witcover: After Kavanaugh swearing-in, battle lines are drawn for November

Leave it to Donald Trumpto rain on his own parade. He took the occasion of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's oath-taking to repeat his allegation that the Democrats used "lies and deception" in their failed efforts to block it.

The president turned to the new Supreme Court member and told him, "(Y)ou, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent." But there was no ironclad "proof" that Kavanaugh was innocent of sexual assault, inasmuch as dozens of people his accuser wanted interviewed were not called.

One of the ironies of the political fiasco was how Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona pulled off a political version of a hockey hat trick.

First, he briefly slowed the Senate's rush to judgment in the affair, forcing an FBI investigation of the accuser's allegation of sexual assault. In doing so, Mr. Flake bucked the will of President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, winning points with those who sided against Mr. Kavanaugh.

But next, Mr. Flake declared that the FBI review had produced "no additional corroborating information" to the charge, thus enabling him to get right with both Messrs. Trump and McConnell and allowing the nomination to advance for a final vote in the Senate.

Finally, Mr. Flake then voted for MR. Kavanaugh's elevation to the court, again keeping himself in good graces with his Senate GOP colleagues to assure a 5-4 Republican majority on the highest judicial bench.

It was not a bad week's work for a retiring member of the Senate club not seeking re-election, though one who is rumored despite denials as a prospective challenger to Mr. Trump for re-election in 2020.

The question now, however, is where does Jeff Flake go from here in American politics? After all the histrionics, he may well wind up a mere asterisk in the history books.

Sen. Christopher Coons, a Delaware Democrat who joined Mr. Flake in his brief interlude of rebellion against Mr. Trump, offered a temporary flicker of bipartisan togetherness. But it probably won't be seen in the Senate again any time soon, as the long-term significance of the final vote elevating the judge sinks in.

At least for now, all three governmental branches -- executive, legislative and judicial -- are in the hands of the Party of Trump, underscoring the critical nature of next month's midterm congressional elections.

More than before, the Kavanaugh confirmation fight has crystalized party dichotomy in Congress and in the country. A roughly parallel split between white male voters and the #MeToo movement has injected new passion into the political debate.

The Democratic contingent now looks to the midterms only a month away to slow Mr. Trump by wresting control of the House of Representatives, and possibly opening the door to a Trump impeachment there.

But the ultimate Republican elevation of Mr. Kavanaugh, no matter how narrowly, has enabled the Trump faithful to envision a new late surge of midterm "red wave" support on Nov. 6, possibly countering or overcoming the long-predicted "blue wave" of anti-Trump voters.

Mitch McConnell offered that viewpoint with the bark off on a Sunday Fox News discussion, declaring contemptuously: "We stood up to the mob. ... I'm proud of my colleagues." Meanwhile, Mr. Coons on NBC downplayed some Democratic talk of impeaching Mr. Kavanaugh if the House switched control. "I think talking about it at this point isn't necessarily healing us and moving us” forward, he said benignly.

But there's little doubt that the Kavanaugh fight, in the words of old class-warfare advocate Saul Alinsky, has "rubbed raw the sores of discontent" in the country. Alinsky wrote, however, in the cause of alleviating those sores, not constantly making them worse, which is the Trump formula for extending his power.

Mr. Flake's call for bipartisan comity achieved only a pause in the rush to judgment on Mr. Kavanaugh. Mr. Trump's power grab for all three branches goes on as the midterms approach, leaving its fate in voters' hands in 435 congressional districts, whether or not they see it in those critical terms.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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