There’s a reason why the media spends so much time painting the Democratic Party as weak willed. Viewers on the right love hearing it, because they always want to be told that they’re winning and the other side is losing. Viewers on the left identity with the narrative, because they’re always wishing the Democrats would come out swinging harder. And let’s face it, the Democrats in general are simply not as good at the kind of below-the-belt political fighting that the Republicans routinely display these days. But then came this past week.
We still don’t know how the Brett Kavanaugh nomination will ultimately play out. But when Donald Trump somehow managed to get Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy to retire at just the right moment so that Trump could hand pick a replacement who would try to help keep him from going to prison, both parties in the Senate were handed a shit sandwich.
Senate Republicans knew from the start that Brett Kavanaugh was a problematic nominee. He played a controversial role in the Bush White House. He’s always come off less as judge material, and more as partisan operative material. By all accounts, Mitch McConnell urged Trump to pick someone else who didn’t carry as much baggage. But Trump insisted on Kavanaugh, due to his stated willingness to protect Trump from criminal prosecution. That meant if the GOP wanted the seat before it potentially loses control of the Senate in the midterms, it had to rush this terrible nominee through before the Democrats could convince the public that he was too controversial.
From day one, the Democrats took this as a challenge – and came out swinging. Cory Booker broke the rules by releasing Kavanaugh’s confidential emails, in order to prove to the public that Kavanaugh was shady. Other Democrats on the committee treated Kavanaugh as a hostile and guilty witness from the minute they started questioning him. Usually, the Democrats have to worry about the sake of appearances. If they get too aggressive, the left might love it. But the middle – even while insisting both parties are the more or less same – knows full well that the Democrats are the good guys, and thus holds them to a much higher standard of ethics and decorum.
This time, with Brett Kavanaugh, it was different. Senate Democrats were making a point of being over the top, because this was too important, and it was the only play they had. They roughed up Kavanaugh as much as they possibly could. Then suddenly Dianne Feinstein produced a letter accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault. We may never know for sure why she waited to produce the letter until she did – but her approach worked.
Suddenly the American people were demanding that the accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, be allowed to testify before the committee voted. This back-and-forth dragged out just long enough for two more accusers to come forward. By the time Kavanaugh came back to defend himself against these accusations, he was in such a bad position – and he knew it – that he had a screaming, crying meltdown in front of the cameras. This prompted a number of observers to conclude that, even aside from the sexual assault allegations, the guy simply didn’t have the temperament to be on the Supreme Court.
Then, the night before the committee was set to vote, red state Democratic Senator Joe Manchin met with Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski, and committee member Jeff Flake. We don’t know precisely what happened in that meeting, but in hindsight, it appeared to have been an effort to get Flake to call for an FBI investigation during the committee vote. Two brave women in an elevator and one passionate Chris Coons speech later, and Flake was indeed calling for an FBI investigation. Which did in fact trigger an FBI investigation.
There was a lot of happenstance involved here. And the real heroes were Dr. Ford and the two women in the elevator. But every step of the way, the Senate Democrats took the weak hand they’d been dealt, and somehow managed to play it in a manner which kept them in the game. They took their proverbial pair of twos, and they outsmarted and outfoxed the Republicans, who were holding the upper hand the entire time. No wonder the Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans were screaming, ranting, and whining by the end of the hearings. For once, they got beat at their own game.
The Democrats were willing to hit just a little below the belt, smartly and repeatedly and creatively, in order to keep an illegitimate President from corruptly putting an alleged serial rapist on the Supreme Court. It was more than warranted under the circumstances. It was received well by mainstream America. It left the Republicans whining like infants about unfair treatment, because they’re not used to being on the losing end of this kind of back alley fight. Give the Democrats some credit. They took a no-win situation and they managed to turn it around such that they just might win it.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report