Report: Eight Republican senators currently undecided on Kavanaugh

That’s according to Fox News’s Chad Pergram. Is he undercounting or overcounting?

Forty-three Republicans have pledged their support to Kavanaugh. Eight GOPers remain undecided. They are Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; James Lankford, R-Okla.; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Ben Sasse, R-Neb…

Know this: a nominee on the verge of sailing to confirmation doesn’t appear on national television with his wife to make his case.

Are there really 43 Republicans in the bank for Kavanaugh? Politico notes that when Marco Rubio, who isn’t among Pergram’s undecideds, was asked yesterday which way he’s leaning, he replied, “I want to see what happens in the hearing on Thursday. I can only vote based on the information before me.” Jon Kyl gave a variation of the same answer. Could be that they have every intention of supporting the nominee and are merely saying the politic thing under the circumstances. How would it look, after all, if they admitted, “Nothing Ford can say will sway me”?

But there may also be a growing risk of a dam break. The crack in the dam in this case runs as usual through centrist Republicans, particularly Susan Collins:

Senate Republican aides think that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will likely vote the same way as Collins, who thus far has played a more vocal role in the debate over Kavanaugh.

“We’re talking about a jury of one: Susan Collins,” said a senior GOP aide.

“When you look at Murkowski and even Flake, no one lets Collins get to the left of them, so she’s going to be the lodestar here,” the source added, referring Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), who is seen as another GOP swing vote.

Four of the eight senators named by Pergram (Enzi, Lankford, Moran, and Sasse) are reliably conservative, hail from red states, and are presumably running for reelection. It’s unimaginable under those circumstances that any of them would make bitter enemies of their own base by siding with Democrats against Kavanaugh if it looks like he’s otherwise on track for confirmation. The game comes down to the other four, Collins, Murkowski, Flake, and Corker, the latter two of whom are retiring and free to vote their anti-Trump consciences.

Question: What if the hearing goes badly for Kavanaugh and two of those four declare their opposition, effectively killing the nomination? What does the rest of the GOP caucus do?

If you’re a purple-state senator like Rubio, you might calculate that you’re still better off voting yes. Your vote won’t save the nominee but it will signal to the GOP base that you’re “on the team,” willing to go down with the ship. Anyone who votes no on Kavanaugh will be branded a RINO forever, whether or not their vote really matters. On the other hand, if Kavanaugh seems shady at the hearing — or if even more accusations of sexual misconduct emerge — how tightly would any Republican senator want to embrace him knowing that his nomination’s going down anyway? Would a no vote *really* cost that much? It’ll be Democrats and the two centrist Republicans who tilt the balance that’ll bear the brunt of right-wing anger. Rubio’s vote won’t be decisive.

Bottom line: If he votes no he’ll make an enemy of the right, if he votes yes he’ll make an enemy of #MeToo and be branded a “rape apologist.” What’s the best use of a worthless vote for a doomed nominee?

“Never cross your base,” you might say. Right, but as much as everyone’s invested in Kavanaugh right now, that can change in a moment depending upon what other allegations he ends up facing and/or what odds the GOP ends up confronting in confirming a replacement. As enraged as everyone might be right now at the thought of 8-10 Senate Republicans flipping on Kavanaugh once Collins and Murkowski do, those feelings will soften if McConnell succeeds in getting a more conservative replacement confirmed. You can say “The left wins if they bork Kavanaugh!” all you want but it won’t look like a win for them if, during the lame-duck session, Republicans confirm Scalia 2.0 to the seat and liberals everywhere start crying about the end of Roe. Maybe someone like Rubio would bank on that as a reason to vote no on Kavanaugh. “I’ll make it up to righties with the next nominee and all will be forgiven,” he might think.

But of course there’s a counterargument to that too: Republicans won’t be in a position to confirm a replacement if they cave on Kavanaugh now. If Kavanaugh goes down, we’re told, morale among the base will collapse and Republicans will be routed this fall. Schumer will hold the majority in the Senate next year and he won’t confirm anyone to the seat as revenge for Merrick Garland. Okay, but I’m skeptical. The base is always making threats about staying home and, in the end, their deep hatred for Democrats always turns them out. If Kavanaugh implodes this week, Trump will spend every day from now to Election Day howling that the left destroyed a good man and the only proper revenge is to turn out in November and punish them for it. “We can’t let them get away with it!” he’ll say. And around 98 percent of MAGA Nation will say, “He’s right!” And he is right, basically. How would one progress logically from anger that Democrats, with help from Collins and Murkowski, unfairly sank a Supreme Court nominee to handing Democrats more power over the Court by staying home in midterm races?

And don’t forget, although this has been The Biggest Story In The World for a solid 10 days now, mega-stories drop every week in the Trump era. It’s completely possible that Trump will fire Mueller next week and order the Russiagate probe closed and we’ll spend the next 40 days arguing over impeachment, with the SCOTUS fight a distant memory. It seems unthinkable right now that the Kavanaugh matter won’t weigh very heavily on voters in November, but check back on that in two weeks. We’ll have endured about 8,000 new news cycles by then. A Republican who votes against Kavanaugh’s confirmation might suddenly have half a dozen new litmus-test votes on all sorts of things in front of him/her.

The one silver lining in this mess is that no matter what happens to Kavanaugh, McConnell can inflict some pain on red-state Democrats by forcing a floor vote. Even if the nomination goes down with Collins’s and Murkowski’s help, Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp and the rest are going to suffer here. If two Republicans flip to no, red-state Dems will have no choice but to vote no as well in order to satisfy their own base by killing the nomination — but they’ll pay with Republican voters back home. That’s another reason why Kavanaugh getting borked isn’t necessarily some glorious triumph for the left: The righty base might be so angry about it that they’ll elect an even redder Senate next year, with a more conservative justice nominated in Kavanaugh’s place.

Exit question: Who’s really the bigger threat to vote no, Collins — or Murkowski?