When the new allegations of sexual impropriety by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared last weekend in excerpts from a new book on Kavanaugh by two New York Times reporters, some Democratic candidates for president (Warren, Harris, Beto, Mayor Pete) were quick to call for impeachment of the Justice. Sanders, Biden, and Klobuchar held back, calling for more examination of the new charges.
Then came the New York Times‘ serious blunder in failing to include in its first excerpt of the book the information that one of the women allegedly assaulted refused to be interviewed and apparently told some friends that she could not recall the alleged penis incident. That information about non-confirmation somehow was not in the excerpt that the Times hastily published online. As the Times scrambled to explain its awkward omission and ran the missing section, the story line shifted to putting the Times on the defensive.
By the week’s end, Democrats were rapidly retreating, while Mitch McConnell was crowing over the non-story, the old news, and the big bad Times. In all, the candidates who rushed to calling for impeachment displayed something well short of presidential deliberation and caution. This seems especially true for Warren and Harris, with their deep experience in the law.
Worse, the politics of reviving the emotionally charged Kavanaugh story doesn’t really work. It shifts the focus from Trump, for one thing, discredits the impeachment fever, and it’s old news. Some polling in a Congressional District near Seattle underscores how holding Kavanaugh responsible for his teenage behavior can backfire.
Just as the Kavanaugh hearings were reaching their peak last year, Stuart Elway of the Crosscut/Elway Poll was doing polling on the Kim Schrier-Dino Rossi race for the 8th Congressional District, lying to the east of Seattle. The first polling results came in on Thursday-Friday, just before the televised Kavanaugh hearings. Republican Rossi led, 45-43 percent. Then on Saturday-Sunday as the Christine Blassey Ford testimony and Kavanaugh’s indignant response riveted voters’ attention, the swing to the Republican Rossi was huge, 57-33, according to Elway. The volatile polling calmed down on Monday-Tuesday, with Rossi’s lead shrinking to 48-38. (Rossi eventually lost to the Democrat Schrier in a swing district.)
One surprising factor in the poll, Elway recalls, was that women were particularly moved during the explosive testimony to switch to the Republican side, 59-27. (Curiously, Rossi’s support among men dropped during the polling period from 46 to 41 percent.) Overall, the swing makes clear how volatile this whole issue has become. Many factors come into play: fairness, statutes of limitation, worry about one’s hormonal son, the vexed question of verification years later, and whether the benefit of the doubt goes to victims or the accused.
A few too many third rails for political predictability, particularly in such a tribal time?