Monday, October 01, 2018


Jonathan Chait is puzzled by the fact that multiple sexual misconduct allegations haven't inspired the White House to withdraw the Brett Kavanaugh nomination:
Sticking with Kavanaugh made no sense, and still makes no sense. Sometimes people do things that make no sense, though. And Republicans may well decide Kavanaugh’s confirmation is a symbolic battle in the kulturkampf that overrides any cost-benefit analysis. That is certainly what the public posturing by the Republican Party, as epitomized by Lindsey Graham, seems to indicate. But there are real signs of weakness beneath the public bravado.

A pair of weekend reports from Axios’s Jonathan Swan conveys the White House’s outward-facing stance. According to administration officials, Kavanaugh is “too big to fail,” because “[t]here’s no time before the [midterm] election to put up a new person.” And if Democrats win a Senate majority, Trump would allegedly prefer to keep the seat vacant rather than compromise with Democrats.

This may be what Trump officials are telling people, and it might even be what they are actually thinking, but the position makes absolutely no sense. If Kavanaugh fails, there might not be enough time to confirm a new justice before the elections, but there will certainly be enough time to confirm one before a new Senate takes over. There are almost two months between the elections and the new Senate. Yes, it would look ugly for Republicans to rush through a new justice after an election that gives Democrats a majority. (Democrats have a two-in-seven chance at the moment.) But this would never stop them from going ahead.... Why would they throw another vacancy away?
Chait thinks they're announcing that there's no Plan B as an effort to rally possibly wavering Republican senators. But a new nominee would rally them, too. Why make confirming Kavanaugh a fight to the death?

Recall the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Shortly before the Republican House voted to impeach, it rejected Democratic calls for a censure vote:
For weeks Democrats had failed to convince the Republican leadership to allow a floor vote on an alternative to impeachment in the form of a stern condemnation of the president's behavior. During the 14-plus hours of impeachment debate, the GOP's refusal to do so was a point of deep anger in Democratic speeches.

Between the debate and votes, the Democrats made a last-ditch try, introducing a procedural motion that would have substituted a censure resolution for the impeachment articles by sending them back to the House Judiciary Committee.

The parliamentary manuever was rejected by acting Speaker Ray LaHood (R-Illinois) as non-germane and the appeal vote failed. As they had threatened to do if the motion failed, Democrats then walked out of the chamber to hold a brief demonstration outside the Capitol to criticize what they called an "unfair" process.
Censure was a popular idea -- in one poll around that time, 57% of respondents supported it. Only 21% supported impeachment. The progressive group MoveOn was formed to try to persuade Congress to "censure President Clinton and move on."

The Senate vote to convict after Clinton's impeachment fell far short of the needed two-thirds majority; a censure resolution could have passed both houses with bipartisan support. As a result, Clinton effectively went unpunished by Congress.

But Republican ultras preferred that to censure. By going through with impeachment and rejecting censure, they left themselves two choices: total victory or an enduring grievance.

To Republicans, either of these was preferable to compromise.

There's a case to be made that this was strategically shrewd: In 2000, despite peace and prosperity, and despite broad popular support for the administration in which he'd participated, Al Gore couldn't manage to win enough votes for a clean victory against George W. Bush. Republican voters' prime motivation: their well-nursed grievance against Clinton. They were angry that he'd escaped consequences -- even though he'd escaped because their party had refused to consider censure.

I see something similar happening now. Republicans simply won't compromise, because compromise is abhorrent to their voters. As in the Clinton years, their preferred outcomes are, in order:
1. Total victory.
2. Defeat that generates a nursable grievance.
To Republicans, either of these is preferable to a retreat on Kavanaugh and the confirmation of a second choice.

There may be other calculations behind the do-or-die strategy, but I think that's the key.

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