After the GOP showed, yet again, their selective empathy and willingness to jettison all moral principles for the sake of power, it is worth panning back to notice how effective their tactics truly are. We already know from observing Trump that, when your administration is a constant stream of absurdity and immorality, individual victories from opposition come to mean less and less. The victory is soon washed over by more absurdity.
When we take a broad perspective on the Kavanaugh appointment, we find that the hearings (ostensibly) about Dr. Ford’s allegations show just how far Democrats have been forced to retreat in the Trump age. The nomination process has driven us through a succession of at least three different battles. And with each Republican win, an assumption has been written into the process:
- Having hearings for Kavanaugh in the first place assumes that it is acceptable for Trump to nominate Supreme Court justices while he is under investigation.
- Ignoring Kavanaugh’s blatant partisanship (exemplified by his first statement as a nominee, which included an obvious sycophantic lie, and his conspiratorial open remarks at the hearing) assumes that mendacious career political operatives are acceptable SCOTUS candidates.
- And now, confirming Kavanaugh despite credible sexual assault allegations assumes that, sans the allegations, he is an acceptable candidate.
(I could add levels about candidates who tell obvious lies under oath during hearings and cynical and perfunctory FBI investigations, but let’s keep it simple.)
The Democrats’ last stand shows how much the Republicans have won. Even if Kavanaugh’s nomination had failed, we would be left with the message that it was the sexual assault allegations that did him in. Without them (or had they been disproven), he would have been the consummate justice. As a result, the prior battles are counted as lost. To get to the next level, we must give up on what came before.
The stunning assault allegations are blocking this fact. Trump’s future nominees, simply by not being sexual assaulters, will immediately appear more legitimate. Plus, Democrats will look weak by pointing out that Trump should not be appointing Supreme Court justices at all or that the nominees shouldn’t be groomed party loyalists. Those tactics have now been politically sealed off.
There is a notable consequence of the death march through the political battles. Because the GOP pushes forward by simply pushing to vote, they can confuse people by blurring the context. In the case of Kavanaugh, the GOP criticized the sexual assault hearings as being useless because the Democrats were already voting no.
This has been taken as a rhetorical slam dunk that owned the libs so hard.
Unfortunately, it makes no sense. The point fails to distinguish the different battles. Cleverly and cynically, it makes the current battle irrelevant by surging ahead and shifting the conversation.
To explain the Democrat thinking and diffuse the GOP talking point, we can make a chart:
Democrats were right to get to no after the very first question (oh…it was so long ago). At that point, continuing the process was about convincing the people who made it to the second question that Kavanaugh was a blind political operative and, hence, shouldn’t be appointed. But since that didn’t work, the last stand was about convincing people that people with credible sexual assault allegations shouldn’t sit on the Supreme Court. The purpose of the hearing is to move people to ‘no’, not to move people to ‘yes’.
The bar should be high. As the GOP lowers it, notch by notch, we see that, even if Democrats had successfully prevented the bar from lowering that final notch, it is still absurdly low. Fighting this last battle means that the Democrats lost the first two.
So we should mourn not only the message that the GOP has sent to survivors of sexual assault (and the boys who have had their impunity reaffirmed). We should mourn the fact that, in the course of sending the message, the GOP has tallied numerous unseen political wins.