[Conservatives are scared, even under Trump.]
Over the past two months since Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced, Democrats and Republicans have painted him in radically different ways. The judge’s backers have called him “a fair arbiter of the law who will call balls and strikes,” to use the words of Senator John Cornyn of Texas; one Washington Post op-ed vouched for his character as a “carpool dad.” Conservatives have downplayed liberals’ arguments that Kavanaugh would radically remake the federal legal landscape: Leonard Leo, who helped secure Kavanaugh’s nomination through his work at the Federalist Society, said Democrats are using a “scare tactic” when they predict that Kavanaugh would help overturn the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade.
By contrast, liberals and progressives have characterized Kavanaugh as a “conservative ideologue,” in the words of Senator Kamala Harris, who would make decisions in a partisan way. (Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii claimed Trump chose Kavanaugh to shield himself from potential criminal charges related to collusion or corruption—“to protect … his own okole,” she said, euphemistically.) Some activists have taken to using apocalyptic language about his nomination: Ilyse Hogue, the president of the abortion-rights organization NARAL, recently wrote that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would let “hate-filled, regressive policies ... be preserved for generations to come, destroying the Founding Fathers’ vision of freedom and liberty, the wisdom of 250 years of the American experiment, and the future rights of our children.”
Dueling polls have given similarly mixed impressions of Kavanaugh’s reputation among voters. CNN reported in mid-August that only slightly more than one-third of Americans want to see Kavanaugh confirmed, tracking with other polls that have suggested he’s less popular than past presidents’ unsuccessful nominees, such as Harriet Miers. For their part, Republican strategists have been floating reports arguing that support for Kavanaugh is high in red-leaning swing states like North Dakota, where Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp is up for reelection in November. Democrats from West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, and Montana have been among the targets of millions of dollars in ad spending and local advocacy pressing for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
A recent C-SPAN poll suggests that American voters care a lot about Supreme Court nominations, but may be more invested in the broad strokes than in the details. Among 2016 voters, 82 percent said court appointments were important for how they made their last ballot choices. Among likely voters, 69 percent said they had been following the news around Trump’s nominee. Yet only 35 percent of respondents could correctly name Kavanaugh, and nearly one-quarter said they have no opinion about his nomination.