Brett Kavanaugh And The Zero-Sum Game Strategy Of The Republican Party

Activists and advocates for survivors of sexual abuse gather in the Federal Building Plaza to protest the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on September 28, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.
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On Friday, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was put on hold when a collection of moderate senators went forward with their request for an FBI investigation into claims by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school. The most notable of the senators to force the week-long investigation is Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona. In a tribute to the protests and activism that has shadowed each step of Kavanaugh’s nomination, there is little doubt that Flake would have faced down his own party if he had not been confronted by victims of sexual assault in an elevator, according to Ezra Klein of Vox.

Prior to the confrontation, Flake walked the Republican line and was clear that he would be voting to confirm Kavanaugh without any investigation. Klein analysis of the hearing emphasizes that this is a part of today’s political climate and unlikely to be broken without a confrontational style of protest.

The main play by the Republicans involved in the hearing was to move the focus away from Blasey Ford’s testimony and toward an analysis of the Democrats’ behavior in pushing for her hearing. The tone became more of an indictment on the Democratic Party rather than on Kavanaugh.

There was no debate regarding Blasey Ford’s claims, and many Republican politicians and pundits expressed that they believed her. Instead of discrediting Blasey Ford, the debate was removed from the purpose of the hearing into the realm of party division.

Klein voiced that this is the mantra of the Trump era. By leaning into the base and making every debate an “us vs them” style discussion, the choice of whether to believe Kavanaugh was removed in favor of a question of party loyalty and Klein believes that it worked for the Republicans.

Examples cited include Republican Senator Chuck Grassley’s opening statement, in which he said, “I lament the way this hearing has come about,” in reference to the Democrats efforts to hold the hearing, while never mentioning the allegations against Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh took the same strategy during his testimony, saying, “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus.”

These statements were not intended to swing the neutrals. Instead, they forced Republicans who had their doubts about Kavanaugh to understand that by abandoning him they let the Democrats win.

None were more clear in their agenda than Senator Lindsey Graham, who interrupted the chosen prosecutor to add his comments about the Democrats, saying, “Boy, you all want power. God, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham.”

Later Graham addressed Republicans directly, saying, “To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.” Graham then turned his focus to the Democrats on the committee, saying, “You want this seat, I hope you never get it.”

This style of refusing to compromise and standing by your party would have been successful, according to Klein, if only Flake had not been confronted by the two women in that elevator. Their passionate anger at the issue of sexual assault forced Flake to remove his party identity from his interpretation and take a clear look at the case before him.

Klein is adamant that while this may have proven successful on Thursday, Republicans have become savvy in taking the strategy of Trump and any chance of a shift in course is unlikely.