There’s no “good” move for a red-state Democrat on Kavanaugh at this point, particularly if that Democrat happens to be a woman.
But this is probably the smartest play she has for reelection when she’s holding a bad hand. Click the image to read the full statement.
My statement on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh: pic.twitter.com/exZcK78JtF
— Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (@SenatorHeitkamp) October 4, 2018
She hedges a little on the underlying claim by saying that she’s concerned about his “temperament” after watching the hearing, but she all but calls him guilty of the attack on Ford in the final paragraphs. I’m surprised she didn’t fall back on something more neutral, like “He hasn’t produced enough documents.” Voting no will annoy most of her state’s voters but rubbing their faces in it by implying that she believes Kavanaugh attempted to rape Ford seems like political suicide.
She was one of three Democrats to vote yes on Gorsuch. So why is a no vote the least bad move for her under the circumstances? Well, note the trend:
Tight race in June, tight race in mid-September. Then, on September 16, Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation about rape was published in WaPo and American politics fell into the maw of the Sarlacc, where it’ll be digested for the next thousand years. Suddenly Republican voters are angry and Heitkamp’s down double digits in multiple polls. Realistically, how many of those Republican voters is she going to win back by voting yes? Right-wing disgust over Kavanaugh’s treatment isn’t focused on any one Democrat. (Well, maybe Feinstein.) They’re all treated as co-conspirators, and the only way to deter them from doing this again is to give them a collective beating in November. If Heitkamp needs to be cashiered as part of the beating, so be it. That’s the mentality she’s up against. Under those circumstances, what good would a yes vote do to soothe the right?
Meanwhile, imagine the harm a yes vote would do to her support on the left. She’s not just a Democrat, she’s a woman. From the beginning many lefties have viewed the Ford/Kavanaugh standoff as a referendum on #MeToo. Viewed through the filter of “rough justice” for other rape victims, Kavanaugh’s borking is a necessity to signal to victims everywhere that they’ll be believed if they speak up. In the left’s eyes, if Heitkamp votes for Kavanaugh she’s not just betraying her party, she’s betraying her gender. Democratic turnout for her would crater. She might well slip further in the polls, with righties treating her as a target for their anger at Democrats nationally and Democrats infuriated that she wouldn’t stand with her own supporters against the nominee.
Keeping the left motivated to show up for her is her only hope of holding on in November. And Heitkamp might be gambling on left-wing anger soaring if in fact Kavanaugh is confirmed, which now seems likely. I laid out four possible outcomes for Republicans from this clusterfark yesterday, ranging from midterm enthusiasm soaring if he’s confirmed to midterm enthusiasm soaring if he isn’t confirmed. The same calculus obtains on the left. Borking Kavanaugh might propel their motivation to vote even higher, since it would mean Trump’s power to fill the SCOTUS vacancy is on the line with the vote this fall. But Kavanaugh being confirmed might also propel their motivation higher. The g-ddamned right-wingers blocked Garland and now they’ve put a rapist on the Court, Dems will say. We need all hands on deck to elect a Dem majority in the Senate, to block the next nominee, and a Dem majority in the House, to impeach Kavanaugh. At the moment it looks like Kavanaugh will be confirmed, which will soothe righties who are momentarily annoyed at her and make lefties very, very angry. Heitkamp, by voting no, is just making sure she stays on the right side of the anger.
Of course, it’s also possible that she’s resigned herself to her electoral fate and is now considering her next career step. Exit quotation:
Heitkamp knows what everybody else does: She's soon to be a former Senator so she might as well impress a future Democratic employer. https://t.co/3nyloB0C2L
— Josh Holmes (@HolmesJosh) October 4, 2018