@EdKrassen / Twitter Brett Kavanaugh looks terrified rightfully so 1538538030.jpg...
@EdKrassen / Twitter

Right up to and even on the day before the midterm elections, Donald Trump was talking about Brett Kavanaugh. The theory he was buying into was that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who went through a contentious confirmation process after being accused of sexual assault, was going to fire up his base before the midterms and help him keep control of Congress. The theory was that Kavanaugh was going to get his revenge during the midterms.

If you look at the data though, the fight Trump picked over Kavanaugh doesn’t appear to have impacted the midterms significantly.

This matters because Republicans are grousing about how if the Democratic-controlled Congress picks a fight with Trump, it will cost them in 2020.

The truth is congressional Democrats have nothing to lose and everything to gain from picking some fights. Especially with Trump.

The narrative on the right

The theory on the right is that the Kavanaugh fight energized the conservative base.

Here’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explaining the theory:

I think the Republican, sort of, core voters in the states what were critical to us, were highly offended by the questioning of the presumption of innocence and the tactics. And I think it was like an adrenaline shot. We were worried about lack of intensity on our side, and I think the Kavanaugh fight certainly provided that. It was extremely helpful.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 9:  Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaks to reporters after voting against a procedural vote on an authorization bill on Capitol Hill December 9, 2010 in Washington, DC.  The US Senate was not able to get a 60 vote super majority necessary to move along a defense authorization bill that included language to repeal the US military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy that prohibits gay service members from openly serving.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaks to reporters after voting against a procedural vote on an authorization bill on Capitol Hill December 9, 2010 in Washington, DC.

Conservatives will point to Senate wins in Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, and Florida as proof that the conservative base turned out. The argument also goes that voting to confirm Kavanaugh actually helped save Democrat Joe Manchin in West Virginia.

The data to support this theory is that 60 percent of voters in the West Virginia election said that Manchin’s vote for Kavanaugh was important to them. Manchin won these voters 56 percent to 29 percent.

If you look at the larger picture though, it was questionable whether Democrats would have won these seats anyway.

Nate Silver’s predictions were almost spot-on in this election. And he had the odds of Republicans keeping control of the Senate at over 80 percent.

Speaking of Nate Silver

In October, Nate Silver asked the question: “Is Kavanaugh Helping Republicans’ Midterm Chances?

His analysis was much more nuanced and is based on the generic ballot margin. The idea is that the comparison to a generic ballot over time is a decent measure of how the Kavanaugh fight helped or hurt Republicans.

July 8 Day before Kavanaugh nominated -7.4 -9.2 -10.8
Sept. 3 Day before initial confirmation hearings -8.8 -11.9 -14.0
Sept. 15 Day before Ford’s name disclosed -9.1 -12.6 -13.4
Sept. 26 Day before hearing on Ford allegations -8.6 -8.6 -11.4
Oct. 4 Today -8.0 -9.2 -10.7

If you looks at the above data, it really depends on which comparison you make. If you compare the general ballot margin to July, before Kavanaugh was nominated, it’s gotten worse. If, however, you compare the general ballot margin to the day Ford’s name was disclosed, it’s gotten better.

His overall prediction for the GOP was “there’s actually something there for Republicans.” However, he went on to say that he doesn’t feel like it’s very much or that it wouldn’t take much to reverse the slight bump Trump saw following the Kavanaugh fight.

What we saw in the election was that his predictions that Democrats would take the House and that Republicans would take the Senate held true.

A different approach from Suffolk University/USA Today

A polling effort from Suffolk University/USA Today took a different approach. They first asked voters if the Kavanaugh nomination fight was important to them. Roughly 60 percent of respondents answered “yes.”

Of this group, they then asked them who they were more likely to support.

35% said Kavanaugh’s confirmation made it more likely for them to vote for a Democratic congressional candidate

27% said it made them more likely to vote for a Republican congressional candidate

What this poll and the election results seem to show is that the issue energized both bases.

What this means for future fights

The Democratic Party shouldn’t be afraid to pick fights that energizes its base (even if this also energizes the Republican base).

Conservative media (FoxNews/Sinclair/AM radio) is going to do things to energize their base anyway. We saw this with the 24/7 coverage of the “scare-avan” in Mexico. We’ve seen it in the past with the Benghazi hearings, with scapegoating of minorities and groups like Black Lives Matter, and with the constant attacks on liberals as “violent” and “socialist.”

They are going to rev up their base.

So as my father was fond of saying: “I’ll give you something to really complain about.”

If we’re going to be attacked in the media anyway, we might as well pick some fights. I hope Democrats listen to the people who elected them (77 percent support impeachment) and bring impeachment charges.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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