The writing’s on the wall. Realistically, three Republican votes were in play after Kavanaugh was nominated. There were the perennials, Collins and Murkowski, but both have been bullish on him since the beginning. And why wouldn’t they be? He’s a veteran of the Bush White House and has been a judge for more than a decade, with a long paper trail of opinions. He’s the ultimate conservative/establishment known quantity. Of course center-right Republicans would feel comfortable with him.

Then there was Rand Paul. If Marco Rubio or even Ted Cruz had become president instead of Trump and ended up nominating Kavanaugh, I think Rand would be a real threat to vote no. His timidity in defying the White House on big nominations isn’t *institutional* timidity, I think. It’s timidity towards Trump specifically. Paul could have flouted an “establishment” Republican president and rested easy knowing that right-wing populists would back him up, just to stick it to The Swamp. With Trump as president, no way. Rand’s off the table.

So, barring anything truly scandalous emerging from Kavanaugh’s professional history, he’s got 50 votes. And precisely because he’s been on the Republican radar for SCOTUS for basically his entire professional life, he’s probably the least likely person from Trump’s short list to have anything scandalous in his record. If your whole career is geared towards a hypercoveted job for which you know you’ll receive electron-microscope scrutiny from your political enemies, you’ll be mindful of it in everything you do. They’re not going to find anything, or at least nothing so alarming that Collins, Murkowski, or Paul will shake loose over it.

The game is over, then, before it’s begun. Time for red-state Democrats to start positioning for the inevitable outcome.

A fourth vulnerable red-state Democratic senator set a date on Friday to meet with Brett Kavanaugh — and more liberal colleagues are poised to follow in the coming days.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) plans to sit down with President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee on Aug. 21, her office said. Kavanaugh already has met with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and is set to visit with Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) on Aug. 15.

But Democratic caucus leaders and liberals who had been holding off on meeting with Kavanaugh amid an ongoing dispute over releasing records on his background are also now gearing up to end the freeze…

Another red-state Democratic senator facing a tough reelection in November, Montana’s Jon Tester, is also expected to meet with Kavanaugh later in August, his office said.

They’re putting their bravest face on this, claiming that they want the meetings so that they can press Kavanaugh about releasing his Bush-era papers in the National Archives face-to-face. Give us the documents, they cry — hoping the hint of antagonism will placate Democratic voters back home. In reality, the red-staters are all lining up to meet him in order to placate the Republican majorities they’ll face in November. Do the smiley photo op with Kavanaugh, show your constituents you’re not one of those “Resistance” Democrats, then cross your fingers that lefties don’t dig up any dirt on him so that you can really dazzle the GOPers back home by voting to confirm him next month. That’s the calculation.

There’s never been a realistic scenario in which Kavanaugh is confirmed with exactly 50 votes. Either he gets borked because something happens to scare off Collins and/or Murkowski, in which case all the red-state Dems will vote no, or Republicans hang tough and vote to confirm unanimously, in which case all the red-state Dems line up behind them to protect their right flank. The over/under on Kavanaugh’s confirmation should be set at 55 or so, not 50. I might take the over.