The Kavanaugh confirmation fight may be over. But the larger battle is still raging.
For months, polls have showed an “intensity gap” between Republicans and Democrats for the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats have been much more excited to vote in the elections, and enthusiasm is critical for turnout. But polls taken in the aftermath of sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the ensuing media firestorm have shown the Democrats’ intensity gap has evaporated.
Why? Prior to the fight, some Republicans didn’t feel motivated to get out and vote in 2018. For those who don’t follow politics closely, things seem to be going great: Trump won a surprise victory in 2016, and the GOP controls both houses of Congress. But ever since tight special elections in normally safely red districts last year, and a Democrat blowout in Virginia’s general elections last year despite record Republican turnout, the media have been breathlessly talking about a blue wave: 2018 would be for Democrats what 2010 was for Republicans. And polls showing surprisingly close races in states Republicans should win handily — Tennessee, Texas, Arizona among them — lent some credibility to the idea of a blue wave.
But the Left overplayed their hand on the Kavanaugh fight. They threw absolutely everything they could at him. Scurrilous, unproven allegations accompanied by ugly rhetoric and hysterical protests have turned off average voters. While many Americans may have found Dr. Christine Blasey Ford sympathetic, they have been appalled at the conduct of Democrats throughout the process. A CNN poll showed that Americans disapprove of the way Democrats handled the nomination by a 28-point margin. However, the same poll showed they disapproved of the way Republicans handled it by a narrower 20-point margin.
So what does the ugly nomination fight mean for the elections, which are less than a month away? A lot can change in four weeks. But it’s clear that the Republican base is fired up. They are not content to rest on their laurels and the 2016 victory. They are finally fed up with the constant frenzy on the Left and are willing to battle to retain the Republican majority in Congress. And there are signs that independents, who are skeptical of Trump, have also been turned off by Democrat behavior. New polls show Republicans taking back the lead, or expanding a narrow lead, in competitive races.
But will it be enough? I think Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial election was a massive bellwether for 2018, and remains relevant even though Republicans are fired up. There was an all-time record turnout for Republicans in the 2017 elections — they voted in higher numbers than ever before. The problem is that the Democrats did too and ended up winning by 9 points, fueled by large margins in cities and suburban areas.
Republicans have always had the upper hand in the Senate elections, with so many red-state Democrats up for re-election and very few vulnerable Republicans. The Kavanaugh fight is likely to fire up red-state voters to depose Democrat senators in North Dakota, Indiana, Florida, and others, and may save Republican-held seats in Tennessee, Texas, and Arizona. Republicans are cautiously optimistic about not only keeping their Senate majority but even expanding it to 54 or 55 seats.
The House is more dicey, however. Republicans hold a 42-seat majority. Will anti-Trump anger among Democrats and lean-blue independents in cities and suburbs be enough to take out 42 Republicans? Prior to the Kavanaugh fight, I would have said yes. After the battle, I’m not so sure. But it still seems likely that the Democrats pick up seats in the House.
Again, a lot can and will change in four weeks. But the most likely scenario as of now appears to show that Republicans will hold the Senate and might pick up a few seats, while also losing at least 20-30 seats in the House and possibly losing their majority.
If Republicans can keep up the intensity and turn out to vote, they can gain seats in the Senate and save the House. And if the Democrats keep talking about taking back the House and promptly impeaching Justice Kavanaugh (and then President Trump), it can only help motivate Republicans even further.