Is the Blue Wave in Jeopardy?

ADAM GINSBURG: The “Blue Wave,” the anticipated anti-Trump voter backlash that should, in theory, deliver Democratic gains in the 2018 midterm elections, is now in jeopardy. The phenomenon, dependent on the premise that Democrats remain more motivated than their Republican counterparts in post-2016 elections, has so far been realized in local, state-level, gubernatorial, and even senatorial elections. But roughly a month before the crucial November 6th midterms, this “Blue Wave” has encountered a major snag: the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fiasco.

The Supreme Court confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh, where partisan politics met the #MeToo movement and turned toxic, was strikingly contentious—understandably so for a nomination that might have swung the balance of the court for decades to come. The nominee, accused of sexual assault and under fire from Democrats for potentially lying under oath and lacking the necessary temperament befitting a judge, asserted he was the target of a left-wing smear campaign—a claim that many Republicans doggedly defended.

The merits of the nominee are now, for better or worse, a moot point; on Saturday, October 6, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 by the Senate and sworn in as justice. However, in the battle of the 2018 midterms, the fight is not over—and, in fact, the aftershocks of the Kavanaugh confirmation process are just beginning to reverberate.

To many political pundits, it was a great mystery that, in the 2016 president election, over 46% of Americans—many of them the members of a political party that prides itself on adhering to “Family Values”—would vote for a thrice-married proven liar who admitted to the groping of women. But once the dust settled, it became clear that, to many, that election boiled down to one pivotal concern: control of the Supreme Court. In fact, according to CNN exit polls, 21% of voters overall—and, crucially, 26% of voters who cast a vote for Trump—named potential Supreme Court appointments as the most critical factor in deciding their vote in 2016.

It is no wonder that Senator Mitch McConnell, previously tasked with trying to gin up voter enthusiasm with relatively unpopular tax cuts, a seemingly scattershot foreign policy, and a historically unpopular president, declared that the Kavanaugh confirmation process have  “been a great political gift for us.” Not only have they given him another chance to cast the Democrats as crass obstructionists, they have allowed him the opportunity to once again underscore the grave importance of Supreme Court control.

In other words, the same matter that motivated many Republicans to hold their nose and vote for Trump in 2016 is now a major motivating issue in the 2018 midterms—and for Democrats, that could spell trouble.

Already, a new NPR/Marist/PBS poll indicates that the widely anticipated edge in Democratic enthusiasm inherent in the “Blue Wave” has largely evaporated, with a 10-point gap in party of respondents saying the midterms are “very important” in July narrowed to a 2-point gap now.

Furthermore and perhaps more ominously, a Quinnipiac poll showed that a plurality of voters believe that Kavanaugh has “been treated unfairly” (47%-43%) and is the target of “a politically motivated smear campaign” (49%-45%), indicating a general sense of displeasure with the Democratic Party’s handling of the situation and suggesting potential for disillusioned moderates to abandon the “Wave.”

Of course, it is quite possible that polling is incorrect, or that Democrats will use this same issue to further galvanize their own base, or that, given the volatility of the Trump-era news cycle, some other issue will relegate the Kavanaugh hearings and the Supreme Court to the backburner of American politics.

Nonetheless, Republican operatives and politicians alike, having been given a “great political gift,” will indubitably seize on this matter for next month. They will once again make the Supreme Court the major issue of an election. They will keep it at the forefront of voters’ memories, fueling Republican enthusiasm to vote.

If they can successfully accomplish that, they can blunt the force of the “Blue Wave”—a scary proposition for Democrats, indeed.

Max Magid