The report that really matters when it comes to the question of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court came out Thursday morning, and it’s not the one that Senators are now reviewing in a secure facility on Capitol Hill. We haven’t seen the FBI report on its investigation, if you can call it that, into the sexual assault allegations against the judge, and we may never will. But we can pretty much guess what its import will be: not much. Republicans say it vindicates him, Democrats say it doesn’t. We suspect the reality, given the limited time and scope, is that it doesn’t say much of anything we don’t already know or suspect.
The report that will make a difference is a string of new polls showing sudden gains for Republicans amid the Kavanaugh fight. An NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll shows a surge in Republican enthusiasm for voting in the midterm elections next month, a shift so large that it has erased the energy gap that has had Democrats anticipating a blue wave in November. Other polls in battleground state Senate contests show good news for the GOP including a big swing toward North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s Republican challenger and gains in Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee. Some polling models suggest the gains are only apparent in the aggregate on the question of whether Republicans will retain control of the Senate (which they have generally been favored to do, blue wave or not), but it is, after all, the Senate that will decide the judge's fate. Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination may remain relatively unpopular in the broader electorate, with more voters opposing it than supporting it, but midterms are about turning out the base, and the headlines Thursday morning gave Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell more leverage in his efforts to pressure wavering Republican senators back in line behind the nominee.
All three key swing GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska criticized President Donald Trump for his attack on Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford at a campaign rally, but he was uncowed. Turning out the base, not decency, is what matters in Trump-world. “Wow, such energy and enthusiasm for Brett Kavanaugh. Look at the Energy, look at the polls,” he gushed on Twitter Wednesday night. Thursday morning, he proclaimed that the “harsh and unfair treatment of Brett Kavanaugh is having an incredible upward impact on voters. The PEOPLE get it far better than the politicians.”
We’d say the politicians get it well enough. They get whether supporting or opposing Mr. Kavanaugh in the wake of credible, if unproven, allegations against him, his partisan rant in the Judiciary Committee and his questionable statements about his past conduct is good for them. They get that what matters is not whether they believe Mr. Kavanaugh or Ms. Ford or even whether they think he will make a good Supreme Court justice, but which vote will get their base of supporters out to the polls.
Mr. Kavanaugh’s selection was born out of Mr. Trump’s need to reassure the Republican base during the presidential campaign that he would nominate acceptably conservative justices. The confirmation hearings made a mockery of any pretense that the Republican majority would attempt to assess his fitness for the nation’s highest court — or, for that matter, that Democrats would do more than grandstand on the way to a sure defeat in the Senate in hopes of a win at the polls. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings with Ms. Ford and Mr. Kavanaugh were designed in such a way as to preclude any actual finding of facts. And the FBI investigation that followed, limited in time and scope, was no better.