Via the Free Beacon, his mouth’s writing checks that he can’t cash. If someone comes forward with real proof of misconduct, if Avenatti delivers on his bananas “gang rape” insinuations, if something were to occur as mild as Jeff Flake and Susan Collins getting cold feet over what we already know, McConnell will almost certainly seek to have the nominee withdraw. Or to have the nomination withdrawn by Trump.
Although honestly, I’m less sure than I was about that yesterday. From Elaina Plott:
According to multiple sources in the House, Senate, and GOP congressional campaigns, Republicans see their task now, of supporting Kavanaugh, not only as principled—standing behind a man they believe is innocent—but political, with Kavanaugh’s confirmation a crucial metric of their chances in the midterm elections. If they don’t “plow ahead” and confirm Kavanaugh, their thinking goes, GOP voters will feel cheated, with little reason to turn out in November. “If Republicans cave to these lies,” one senior Senate GOP aide told me, “it will demoralize the base and cost them the Senate.”…
Republicans also fear that further delays will allow for more of what they describe as false allegations. “The more we let Dems delay,” the first Senate aide told me, “the more women get coached into remembering Kavanaugh assaulted them.” (There’s no public evidence that Ford or Ramirez was coached.)
So long as the political calculus points in that direction — “stand and fight” will get you more midterm votes than “cave and move on quickly to a new nominee” — then McConnell will stand and fight. And thanks to the developments of the last 24 hours, I think that’s momentarily true. Between the New Yorker’s shoddy hit piece on Kavanaugh and the specter of “Creepy Porn Lawyer” wading into this sewer, Republican voters now want to grind the left’s faces in Kavanaugh’s successful confirmation:
My feeling at the moment is that the New Yorker story is a brilliant play by liberals to get conservatives to stick with a nominee when they should be open to having him withdraw. (Even more brilliant to add Avenatti to the mix.)
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) September 24, 2018
McConnell played the “never surrender” sentiment to the hilt in his floor speech this afternoon, as you’ll see below, but he’s setting himself up for a hell of a dilemma in the event that Democrats hit Kavanaugh with something solid. Having now all but promised a floor vote, and with the Republican base (and Trump of course) hellbent to own the libs after their eleventh-hour hit, how can he possibly retreat if the facts change? If Avenatti produces real evidence of something sordid, McConnell will want Kavanaugh to withdraw right away in order to spare Senate Republicans from a floor vote. Because that vote would be no-win for the GOP: Anyone who votes no will enrage the right-wing base (“How could you believe Avenatti’s smears?!”) and anyone who votes yes will enrage everyone else (“How could you vote to confirm a man who’s behind credibly accused of something so horrendous?!”). It’s a disaster in the making. The moment McConnell senses that Kavanaugh is going down, he’ll do everything he can to avoid that floor vote.
But what if he can’t avoid it? Kavanaugh might not agree to withdraw. This will be his only chance to join the Supreme Court. He might believe that withdrawing would signal to Democrats that he’s guilty and then they might try to impeach him from the D.C. Circuit next year. He has nothing to lose by calling the bluff of people like Flake and Collins by forcing them to vote. As for Trump, McConnell would plead with him to spare Senate Republicans from an impossible choice by yanking the nomination, but Trump is always skeptical of #MeToo allegations (perhaps for self-interested reasons) and has invested a lot of political capital in Kavanaugh. He’s turned the nominee into an applause line at his rallies. If he pulls the nomination to protect Senate Republicans, he’ll be the one whom righties accuse of caving to the left.
And Trump’s not normally a “take one for the team” kind of guy.
So McConnell might be forced to keep this promise — although I tend to doubt it. If worse comes to worst, with two Republicans flipping to no and Trump and Kavanaugh refusing to withdraw, he’ll probably be the one to take one for the team by refusing to proceed with the nomination. (He did it with Merrick Garland, he can do it with Kavanaugh.) Even then, though, it would depend on how bad the latest allegation is. If it’s really bad and really solid, he’ll yank the nomination on the theory that the number of votes on the right that the GOP will lose in the midterms because of his surrender is less than the number of votes in the center it would have lost if he had forced everyone to vote and some Republicans voted to confirm. But barring some sort of worst-case scenario, he might indeed “plow ahead” and force the vote just to keep his base happy. If Kavanaugh ends up going down thanks to Flake and Collins, say, that’s probably the least bad of the potential bad outcomes: Righties will blame Flake and Collins, not the party writ large, and swing voters who dislike Kavanaugh will probably be happy enough to see him fail that they won’t hold much of a grudge against Republicans who voted to confirm. That may be what’s coming.
Exit quotation via Gabriel Sherman: “[D]espite publicly supporting Kavanaugh, Trump has considered pulling the nomination.”