In the words of Adam Jentleson, who served former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid as deputy chief of staff, “Now, with everything progressives have fought for at stake if the Supreme Court holds a conservative majority for a generation, lawmakers from states that voted for Trump have to understand that this is one of those fights that defines what it means to be a Democrat. From concerns about the Affordable Care Act and a woman’s right to her own reproductive freedom, to Kavanaugh’s past writing that the president should not be able to be prosecuted, Kavanaugh has provided all Democrats with plenty of paths to get to ‘no.’”
Pro-Trump groups have wasted no time launching ad wars against the red-state Democrats, in the hopes of facilitating a quick surrender. If they can squeeze those vulnerable incumbents to vote “yes” on Kavanaugh, it will ease the pressure on Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, both of whom support reproductive rights. One nonprofit, America First Policies, has already posted ads demanding that Heitkamp, Donnelly, and Manchin break ranks for Kavanaugh (an initial $150,000 outlay, for a campaign reportedly expected to hit seven figures). And McCaskill’s Missouri challenger, Josh Hawley, is on the air demanding that McCaskill decide “whether she is going to stand with Chuck Schumer” against Kavanaugh. Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, wants a united opposition, but yesterday Manchin sent this message back to his leader: “Kiss my you-know-what.”
Nevertheless, there is a case for unity—one that meshes principle with pragmatism—particularly on two fronts.
Reproductive rights, and health care generally, are issues that play well for Democrats. Kavanaugh is a likely threat to those rights, and to the future of Obamacare (which is currently being challenged anew in a federal lawsuit filed by 20 Republican attorneys general). Kavanaugh would not have been vetted by the conservative Federalist Society if he was deemed a progressive sympathizer.
Fighting a court nominee requires that the stakes be framed as relevant to the average voter’s life. And Democratic candidates nationwide are arguably on strong turf if they oppose Kavanaugh on health care. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, released last month, conducted by a Republican pollster working with a Democratic counterpart, reported that health care is the top-ranked issue in the 2018 midterms—and that, among those voters who rank it highest, 67 percent want the Democrats to run Congress. (Only 21 percent want the Republicans in charge.) Among all registered voters, only 39 percent said they were “enthusiastic” or “comfortable” with a candidate who favors Obamacare repeal.
On abortion specifically, the Democratic position—warning that Kavanaugh could cast the vote that kills Roe v. Wade—would have solidly mainstream support. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released two weeks ago, 68 percent of women, 73 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of reproductive-age women said they don’t want Roe overturned. Kavanaugh did promise, during his 2006 federal Circuit Court confirmation hearing, that he “would follow Roe v. Wade faithfully and fully,” but the current Republican-majority Court has already shown its willingness to overturn legal precedent—notably, in the campaign-finance ruling Citizens United, and last month, by nullifying decades of labor law when it ruled against public unions in Janus v. AFSCME.