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Fox News Halftime Report

July 10, 2018
By Chris Stirewalt

On the roster: Dems face big loss, big opportunity with Kavanaugh – Tim Ryan debates taking on Pelosi – Trump talks up UK ‘turmoil’ ahead of visit – Audible: Sen. McSalty – Knight to Prius 2

Democrats say that they are prepared to mount a fervent, historic effort to keep Judge Brett Kavanaugh off of the Supreme Court, but it’s kind of hard to believe them right now.

Talking about it this morning, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was only able to muster the glum resolution of a man contemplating a vegan hotdog. Mmm Mmm…

It is true that Kavanaugh’s all-but-certain elevation from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to the highest court in the land will be historic. Arguably for the first time since the 1930s, the Supreme Court will have a reliably right-of-center majority. For most of the post-World War II era, the court has been substantially focused on enhancing and shaping federal power in service of progressive policy aims. For the first time in a long time, the newly constituted Roberts court is likely to be more focused on constraining government activities.

Chief Justice John Roberts will become the swing vote and the only points on which he tends to disagree with his fellow Republican appointees is on just how narrowly to define the powers of the court itself.

No project has been more focused or more consuming for Americans in the past 40 years, so this victory will be sweet for them indeed.

Kavanaugh, a bright, thoughtful and richly qualified candidate starts with the presumption that every Republican will sign on to his nomination, which probably means that four or five Democrats from red states will get aboard as well.  Given the anguishing responses from Democrats since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, they clearly understand how big a deal it is to have this shift toward small government conservatism on the court that has, since the 1950s, been their most successful vehicle for implementing large-scale policy changes.

But the historic nature of the moment does nothing to change the political calculus. President Trump is replacing a Republican appointee for whom Kavanaugh clerked and has apparently also been Kavanaugh’s champion through the president’s nominating process. While some conservatives are grousing that Trump did not shoot the moon with the pick and choose a more boldly conservative choice, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell understood the value of a well-vetted, well-liked nominee for what is going to be a sprint of a confirmation process.

The next term of the court starts in 83 days, which gives the Senate just enough time to push the nomination through. For context, the three most recent appointees to the Supreme Court, Neil GorsuchElena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, were confirmed in 66 days, 87 days and 66 days respectively. A wild confirmation battle like the one that took Clarence Thomas 99 days from nomination to confirmation would not do.  No Supreme Court nominee has ever been rejected by a Senate in the hands of the same party as the president. And with Harry Reid’s nuclear option in hand the chances for defeat or even significant delay appear rather remote.

Though this may sound a little consolation to Democrats in the face of what looks to be a generational setback for the liberal cause, there is opportunity in this moment for the Blue Team.

Schumer and his fellow Democrats do face some challenges in how to run their opposition effort. The loudest voices in his conference, especially those greasing the skids for potential 2020 presidential runs, would profit by being seen as extremists in defense of freedom, while moderates and those facing re-election in red states have lots of incentive to sound reasonable.  Democrat strategy has to take both of these sets of interests into account, which will essentially add up to allowing individual senators to take any rhetorical leaps they like while still trying to hold the line of unified opposition for as long as practical, at which point the defectors will be given hall passes to join the majority backing Kavanaugh.

Along the way, however, all of the scaremongering and doomsday talk will provide marvelous motivations for Democratic base voters and donors heading into the shank of the midterm campaign season.  This nomination may be a generational opportunity for Republicans, but their incipient defeat certainly provides a short-term opportunity for Democrats in their bid to hold Republicans to their current narrow majority in the Senate and take back the House.

Much of what you see over the next 12 weeks will be pure theater staged for the purpose of taking an already electrified Democratic base into new ecstasies of outrage and indignation.  Democrats will use the hearings and coverage around them to push their core issue set for 2018: Republican efforts to roll back taxpayer funded health insurance, perceived threats to minority protections and corruption within the Trump administration.

It’s no wonder that the hearings are unlikely to be either useful or illuminating, but they will be a great opportunity for Democrats to dress up this vegan frankfurter with all the electoral fixings.

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