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#MeToo Meets the 2018 Senate Map

I had read that Mitch McConnell was going to hold a meeting Monday afternoon and perhaps the  Kavanaugh saga would finally be over. It appears to me and the pundits a political perfect storm for the Democrats, but McConnell bet differently, emerging from the meeting to parade his obfuscatory grumpy old man act, berating the accusers and promising a floor vote. Because of a Senate electoral map historically favorable to the GOP, McConnell and his pollsters eye North Dakota Indiana, Missouri, and West Virginia as the states determining the electoral ramifications of voting on Kavanaugh.  In North Dakota, where Trump-Clinton-Gary Johnson finished 63%-27%-6%, Republican congressman Kevin Cramer has a slim lead in two week old polls over incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who voted for Neil Gorsuch. Cramer has not been shy about wading into the Kavanaugh controversy “This case is even more absurd (than Anita Hill’s) because these people were teenagers when this supposed, alleged incident took place. Teenagers.. These are teenagers who evidently were drunk..”

In Missouri, where Trump won by eighteen points, Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill came out against Kavanaugh after the Ford charges surfaced not, she said, because of the allegations but because “Judge Kavanaugh will give free reign to anonymous donors and foreign governments through their citizens to spend money to interfere and influence our elections with so-called ‘issue ads,’” citing the nomination’s real ramifications on the orientation of the court on an issue where the public overwhelmingly agrees with her. The race is currently a statistical tie. Her opponent, State Attorney General Josh Hawley, mustered on Monday the grammar “And if these other, this new stuff out there, that ought to be aired out Thursday.”  In Indiana, where Trump won by nineteen points, Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly, who holds a slim lead, is taking a wait and see approach, not criticizing the committees decision not to call witnesses or conduct and FBI investigation. In West Virginia, after starting out closer, Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin has taken a double digit lead in most polls. McConnell is betting that to force those four incumbents to vote Nay on Kavanaugh would hurt them in November. Running for an open seat in Tennessee, former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen has repeated the “quick hearings, vote” point.

Of course, there are other races impacted by Kavanaugh, which is believed to be rallying both party bases, increasingly divided by gender.  Incumbent Republican Dean Heller was caught calling Ford’s charges a “hiccup” on the way to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which he didn’t deny but recontextualized in an implausible way.  Previous to the comment he was running slightly behind his female challenger within the margin for error. One wonders whether Republican Senators in deep red states are preferred for seats on the Judiciary Committee due to contentious hearings like this one, but Ted Cruz has found himself in an unexpectedly close race.  Cruz, who accused Democrats of “table-pounding” in earlier hearings on the nomination, was by several reports opposed to Kavanaugh before Trump made the selection, fearing another Earl Warren – David Souter conversion and that Kavanaugh was too helpful to Obamacare. His opponent, Beto O’Rourke, has been quiet about the nomination, perhaps because he is running in a state where Kavanaugh has been outpolling both candidates.

In addition to the pundits’ claim that the Republicans are using Kavanaugh to rally their political base there is the President, who Democratic politicians and columnists say took a liking to Kavanaugh’s writings on executive privilege and immunity in light of current legal threats.  Kavanaugh visited the White House on a daily basis this past week, perhaps touting to commander in chief how he would persuade other justices in any potential case involving Trump.

Republican Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley tweeted September 21st “I feel like I’m playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and Schumer is the conductor,” in reference to delaying the hearings to Thursday. The New Yorker article states that Republican staffers were aware of additional charges when they demanded that the hearings be held on Monday, before they expected the Deborah Ramirez story to hit the press.

A Republican tactic for addressing the current charges is accusing the “Democrats” of holding onto Professor Ford’s charges since July, despite widespread knowledge that only one Senator, Dianne Feinstein, knew anything about Ford. The Congresswoman that Ford first contacted vouches that Ford has no “political bone in her body,” despite the fact that Ford has made several political contributions to Democratic causes.  I tend to believe Ford but wonder how she was matched with attorney Debra Katz, who represented Bill Clinton by saying “Paula Jones’ suit is very, very, very weak,” and Al Franken by saying “Context is everything.” Franken, had he not resigned, would be sitting on the Judiciary Committee. Fearing the optics of exclusively male Republican senators on the Judiciary committee, the GOP is planning to have like-minded female staffers question Ford, which led to Katz’ demand that only Senators, and not staffers, question her.  Now, if she’s representing a client who is dealing with her understandable anxiety over testifying, why wouldn’t she want females, and not males, cross-examining her? This suggests that Ford is on board with Katz’ politicization of the charges.

If it seems that I am cataloguing cynical political reactions to increasingly grave allegations that resonate with many womens’ experiences, that’s exactly what I am doing.  #MeToo simultaneously relates to what women often face everywhere they work and go, and the seemingly separate phenomenon of how privileged figures in media and politics have systematized their pastimes: the organizational enablers and contractual clauses of Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer’s office door that didn’t open from the inside.  In this cynical game of manipulating public opinion, Senate Republicans are configuring their response to #MeToo around the favorable 2018 Senate map, risking both a short term and a long term backlash, bullied by a stubborn president concerned with his legal worries who’s built his political career on the unexpected outcomes of reactionary cultural battles. Feinstein and whoever’s indeed coordinating with her have given them logistical problems they didn’t bargain for. The GOP House is bracing for defeat, lacking a leader who can ask to stop the bleeding. For this reason, I almost didn’t want it to end with Monday’s meeting, but thanks to McConnell and Trump, it’s kicking it into higher gear.  Whether or not we end up with a justice more to Ted Cruz’ liking, whatever credible evidence does emerge against Kavanaugh could provide cover to Democrats in close races while energizing female voters and whatever challenge to the establishment Democratic orthodoxy their new candidates can provide.

Ian Keenan blogs about art and literature at Piri’ Miri Muli’.

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