Did Dianne Feinstein's Kavanaugh Gambit Cost Democrats the Senate?
I. Independent Voters Are Disgusted With The Relentless Negativity of Partisan Gutter Politics
Independent voters make up over 40 percent of registered voters in the United States today, while fewer than 30 percent are either registered Republicans or Democrats.
Voters are leaving the parties in droves because they are disgusted by the fever pitch level of animus in partisan politics, the unrelenting negativity, the unscrupulous smearing, the cynical gutter politics into which American factionalism has devolved.
Instead they are interested in the substantive issues that will make America prosperous and safe, and they make up the increasing number of Americans who resent the kind of branded corporate advertising– whether it's from private companies or political parties– that insults them by talking down to them, by assuming they are motivated by the most base and un-illuminated kind of thinking.
II. That's A Big Reason Why Donald Trump Won Against All Odds in 2016
That's a major reason why– against all odds and all public polling results– a vulgar TV game show host defeated the Democrats' practically incumbent candidate for president in 2016.
Donald Trump ran a campaign that was mostly positive: Make America Great Again. And mostly about the economy and the material well being, comfort, and safety of the American people.
By contrast, Democrats ran a negative campaign of grievance, entitlement... and a demented deep dive into the salacious.
Many were captivated by Michelle Obama's convention speech, in which she said, "When they go low, we go high," but when the chips were down, the 2016 presidential election's October surprise, timed for maximum effect by the Washington Post two days before the second presidential debate, was the now infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which a hot mic recorded Donald Trump making lewd jokes and graphically describing his adulterous sexual exploits.
III. When They Go Low, We Go Lower
Establishment Republicans were absolutely mortified and everyone in the chattering classes were certain that this meant the decisive end of any lingering possibility that Donald Trump could prevail against the establishment's anointed one on Election Day.
Republican leaders lined up in a long queue behind House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain to denounce Trump and withdraw their support for his campaign.
But when voters– most importantly independent voters in the key swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania– cast their ballots, they rejected the Democratic Party's deliberate descent into the muck and mire of airing a candidate's dirty laundry in public... instead of trying to win the public's support for a positive policy vision for the future of their government.
That conversation Trump had with Billy Bush was a private conversation, and it is indeed the way that perfectly respectful blue collar men with mothers, and wives, and daughters– who would never hurt a woman or even purposefully do anything to make a woman uncomfortable– tease and banter in private conversations in locker rooms and pubs– conversations that are crude, but harmless.
(And as I was shocked to learn as a young teenager once listening through the fence to teenage girls talking in the dugout at a girl's softball game: Men aren't the only ones fluent in blue humor.)
IV. Politics Is Gross Enough Already
These are obviously not the kind of statements any sane person would make during a job interview, or business meeting, or on stage while running for public office, where they would be very inappropriate, but digging these kind of conversations up and making them public, and acting as if they are a central issue in a presidential election is also very inappropriate for the same reasons.
Many men have talked to each other this way at some point in their lives, but if they're gentlemen, they don't talk this way in front of their elders, women, or children. Bringing this into the public discourse made the Democrats look more scuzzy to voters– especially undecided swing voters– than it did Trump.
Marring the already tense and in many ways decadent public discourse with brazen attacks on a candidate's private sexual life is just too much for most of us to stomach. And it shows no sense of decorum or propriety, no sense of responsibility for the children, who are carelessly exposed to this kind of talk by obviously unscrupulous political actors who want to win the next election by any means possible without considering the cost to society.
V. DiFi Doubles Down on Making Partisan Politics as Unsavory and Miserable for Everyone as Possible
Senator Diane Feinstein's handling of the allegations Christine Ford made about Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh is a resounding embrace of the style of politics that brought down a shoo-in for the Oval Office, whom everyone expected to slam dunk on the reality television clown at the ballot box.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell summarizes well how badly this matter was mishandled by Feinstein:
"The ranking member withheld serious allegations from committee colleagues, precluding any chance that they would be handled with sensitivity and discretion. Meanwhile, the accuser retained specific politically connected counsel. Then her confidential account reached the media faster than it reached either the chairman of the committee or the FBI."
Instead of handling this matter with prudence and care, with the public good of our society and republic in mind, and the most gentle possible treatment of Christine Ford, as well as the most fair treatment of Brett Kavanaugh and his wife and two daughters; instead of immediately bringing this serious allegation to the attention of her committee colleagues to investigate earnestly and quietly for everyone's sake– she weaponized it, kept it secret for weeks, her secret weapon, and let it drop like a bomb, knowing exactly what kind of bawdy, disgusting media circus would ensue.
VI. Feinstein's Gambit Backfires
As NPR reports Wednesday:
"Just over a month away from critical elections across the country, the wide Democratic enthusiasm advantage that has defined the 2018 campaign up to this point has disappeared, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll."
And as the blue wave dissipates, the NPR poll finds a surge in Republican voter enthusiasm:
Vulnerable Senate Democrats who are facing the electorate this November in states that voted for Donald Trump in 2016, like Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Donnelly (IN), and Joe Manchin (WV) find their seats in the Senate chamber more imperiled than ever.
A Fox News poll published Wednesday finds Republican challenger Kevin Cramer leading Senator Heitkamp by 12 points now (53%-41%)— up from just four points last month.
And in Arizona where the race for Senator Jeff Flake's open seat between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally has been deadlocked within a margin of error (47%-45% in Sinema's favor), the surge in voter enthusiasm among Republicans after the Kavanaugh Senate debacle could easily swing the state McSally's way.
VII. Even Feinstein's Own Numbers Are Slipping in California Against de León
In California's unique (but not for long) non-partisan top two open primary, all candidates of any party as well as those without any party affiliation run against each other in a single primary, and the top two winners face off in the general election.
As a result of this unique electoral process, and the specific, parochial politics of California, Feinstein is defending her seat this November from a Democratic challenger, State Senator Kevin de León. A ranking member of the Senate with national name recognition and a massive war chest of $10M to de León's $0.6M, Feinstein has had the advantage throughout this campaign.
But after the way she's approached the nomination battle over Brett Kavanaugh, Feinstein's lead over de León has shrunk by half.
She enjoyed a comfortable lead of 22 points in July, but according to the latest PPIC poll, she's now ahead by 11 percent.
What's more, a recent survey including the responses from 1,600 California voters and conducted by IVN's digital pollster, IVC Media, found that a whopping 43 percent of likely California voters are undecided on this race. It will be Republicans and independent voters who decide the outcome. Regardless of their opinion on Kavanaugh's confirmation, the partisan spectacle they witnessed last week may not bode well for the incumbent senator.
VIII. With Open Primaries and The Growing Number of Independent Voters The Political Calculus Has Changed
While it appears she will still manage to slide past the November midterm back into her Senate seat unscathed, that is not at all a certainty any more. In the odd and interesting new electoral landscape of California's open primary process, Feinstein is up against opposition from both sides of the political spectrum, with more liberal voters backing de León (along with the official endorsement of the state Democratic Party), and California Republicans calling for the GOP to turn out to defeat Feinstein at the polls, even if it means holding their nose to vote for de León.
And then there's the independent voters to consider. 25 percent of registered voters in California are not affiliated with any party. A quarter of them say they are undecided between Feinstein and de León and plan not to vote for either in November, while 52 percent of Republican voters say they're sitting out the California senate race as well. It was voters like these who were undecided until the last minute that handed Donald Trump his surprise win in 2016.
In a world where Donald Trump could beat Hillary Clinton (and Bernie Sanders almost could), in a world where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could prevail against the second most senior Democrat of the U.S. House of Representatives in a partisan primary, the political winds have clearly shifted and the electoral calculus has changed.
IX. Words of Wisdom
Who knows what will happen until the votes are counted?
But this week I'm reminded of an old Hebrew proverb:
Whoever digs a pit for others will fall into it, and if someone rolls a stone to crush another, it will roll back on them.