Supporting Brett Kavanaugh Is Backfiring On The GOP

Protesters gather in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill ahead of the vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Supporting Brett Kavanaugh Is Backfiring On The GOP

Escalating the war on women and harnessing white male rage in the wake of #MeToo may invigorate the base, but it has a cost—suburban women.

The GOP’s war on women is not a new phenomenon. Issues like reproductive rights, healthcare, the wage gap, and childcare disproportionately affect women in this country and Republicans have made it their business to hold back progress on policies that would address these concerns for decades. However, as we move into midterms, the GOP is doubling down, seeking to harness white male fear in the wake of the #MeToo era and weaponizing it to help an accused sexual predator with a troubling history of drinking slide into a seat on the Supreme Court.

For Republicans, there is an upside to supporting Brett Kavanaugh. His nomination invigorates the conservative base who are eager to install another right-wing justice on the Supreme Court, challenging Roe v. Wade and a host of other important decisions that could cement tactics like gerrymandering for the next generation. And it helps plump up conservative voter turnout just ahead of the midterms as Republicans face losing the House of Representatives in an unprecedented wave of Democratic and independent voters eager to issue a referendum on Donald Trump.

However, performances like the ones Lindsey Graham delivered last week from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where he was practically spitting with rage from his bully pulpit, have a cost. While they may get the uneducated, white men who have become the GOP’s bread and butter demographic to the polls in droves, these kinds of misogynistic tactics further alienate conservative women and galvanize Democrats. And Kavanaugh’s nomination, now underwater, is now being driven in part by opposition from a surprising source—suburban women.

This demographic of suburban women, especially those over 50, believe Dr. Blasey Ford. In fact, they find her more credible than Kavanaugh by a margin of 12 points or more. And as opposition to Kavanaugh grows in the wake of additional allegations and concerns about his fitness to serve on the court, the condemnation comes not just from Democratic women but from independent and conservative women. While it might be obvious that conservative and independent women are a demographic of support the GOP can not afford to lose, it’s worthwhile to discuss how we arrived in this era, where Republicans are hemorrhaging women from their ranks.

How The GOP Became The Party Of Old, White Men

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, from left, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, arrive for the second day of the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, from left, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, arrive for the second day of the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

It wasn’t always this way. Much like the development of political party affiliation around civil rights, Republicans historically supported equal rights for women. It was a Republican who, at the request of Susan B. Anthony, introduced the 19th Amendment that would give women the right to vote. In 1896, the GOP was the first party to make equal rights for women part of its platform. The first woman elected to Congress, Jeanette Rankin, was a Republican. We also owe our first female Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor to Republicans, who appointed her in 1981.

But my, how things have changed. Since they pivoted to the “Southern Strategy,” today’s Republican party bears little resemblance to the one that supported women’s equality nearly a century ago. Currently, Betsy DeVos is busy trying to loosen Title IX on college campuses, removing reporting requirements for sexual assault. The GOP attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortion have been relentless for several decades, but now they’ve begun to chip away at access to birth control and women’s healthcare. All of these continued attacks on women’s reproductive rights are compounded by efforts to roll back policies on paid family leave, the wage gap, and education funding. There is no issue that Republicans can not make partisan, including domestic violence and sexual assault. When Congress attempted to renew the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year, there was not a single GOP co-sponsor.

Hostile policies aren’t just purging women from the ranks of the party. They are also abandoning the halls of Congress. There are fewer Republican women in Congress now than in 2006, and this downward trend holds true for every level of both state and federal government. In fact, in the last decade, the gender gap in the GOP has only widened.

Currently, the proportion of Republican women in the House of Representatives has dropped from 11 percent in 2006 to just 9 percent today. While there are more Republicans and a GOP majority in the House of Representatives, less of those people are women. In contrast, Democrats have been doing the exact opposite. There are 62 Democratic women in the House of Representatives compared with 22 Republicans and, in state legislatures, 59.8% of women are Democrats compared to just 39.4% of Republicans.

The gender gap has been persistent for Republicans on the national level since 1992- nicknamed “the year of the woman.” On the heels of the Clarence Thomas hearing and the smear campaign against Anita Hill, women were credited with flooding the polls and helping win huge majorities for Democrats. The Ford-Kavanaugh hearings bear a remarkable resemblance to the same phenomena that drove “the year of the woman” in the aftermath of the Anita Hill scandal, but there are three important differences that signal we could see an even bigger swing this time around. First, Brett Kavanaugh is more unpopular with the general public than Clarence Thomas ever was. Secondly, more Americans today agree that, if accusations against the judge are true, it should disqualify him from a seat on the Supreme Court. And last but certainly not least, more Americans believe Dr. Blasey Ford than they did Anita Hill in 1991.

Decades later, Republicans still struggle not only with supportive policies for women but with electing women to their ranks. There seems to be little to no motivation within the party to make this a priority. Democrats, however, have made electing women a pivotal part of their strategy. Emily’s List raised more than $90 million for pro-choice female Democratic candidates in the 2016 cycle and has been credited with supporting an unprecedented number of female candidates for the midterms. According to the Center for Women and American Politics at Rutgers University, 350 Democratic women filed to run for the House in 2018, compared with 118 Republican women. Democratic women have won 105 House primaries, compared with just 25 won by Republican women.

A record-breaking number of women are predicted to win House races in the midterms and, for the first time, the total number of women serving in Congress may exceed 100.

Currently, the gender gap between Democrat and Republican voters is among the highest it has been since 1992. After decades of fighting to be heard, women are finally deserting the ranks of the GOP, moving in large numbers towards becoming independent or Democratic voters. And it’s the elephant in the room that the GOP definitely doesn’t want to talk about as midterms approach.

If Republicans Lose Big In The Midterms, It’ll Be Because Of Women

Since polling began in earnest, Democrats have enjoyed a comfortable margin of favorability on the generic ballot. Even as recently as mid-September before the accusations against Kavanaugh, Pew Research Center gave Democrats a 10-point lead, largely due to unprecedented support from women. On a generic ballot where likely voters were asked to simply vote Democrat or Republican, women preferred Democrats by 23 points over Republicans, while men preferred the GOP by a mere 3 points.

Most of this bump in Democratic support appears to be coming from white married women who are usually a dependable demographic for the GOP. Democrats also gained nine points among suburban women and 10 points among white women who did not attend college. This mass exodus of Republican support among women is unlikely to be motivated strictly by policy. After all, as we established previously, the GOP platform has been sabotaging women for several decades.

In this case, distrust and outright disgust for Republicans seem to be driven by larger issues of character. Sexual assault allegations against Trump, domestic abuse scandals among his staff, and a slew of GOP sexual harassment allegations has taken its toll on conservative and conservative-leaning women. Just listen to two of the most notorious deplorables bemoan the difficulties facing the future of the Republican party.

“There is sort of a female revolution going on at the voting booth. Donald Trump has very much energized moderate-to-left-leaning women who were not as politically active as they are today.”—Rick Santorum

“The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history. You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”—Steve Bannon

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh has highlighted and deepened the gender divide for the GOP.  To explain why an overwhelming 65% of women support a Democratic takeover of Congress, we have only to look at Republican behavior through the nomination and subsequent Ford-Kavanaugh hearing. As we stand on the threshold of the first midterms in the #MeToo era, the GOP gender gap looks like a yawning chasm, and Republicans aren’t even trying to bridge the divide to reach women. Instead, they’re widening it.

Continuing To Support Kavanaugh Is Costing The GOP Conservative And Independent Women

When Trump first nominated Brett Kavanaugh, women already had plenty of concerns about him sitting on the Supreme Court. As a candidate on the Federalist Society’s shortlist, he was sure to oppose Roe V. Wade and espouse conservative, religious views that would swing the court steadily right. Initially when Kavanaugh was nominated in July, support, especially among conservatives, was high. But in the weeks since Dr. Basey Ford was forced to go public with her allegations of sexual assault, support for Kavanaugh has dropped 11 points among Republicans, largely driven by an 18-point fall among Republican women who now oppose his nomination.

And it’s not just Kavanaugh whose approval is bottoming out. Trump’s approval rates appear to be closely tied to those of his beleaguered nominee. A Politico/Morning Consult poll just before the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings showed an 18-point drop in support for the President among Republican women.

Another batch of polls released earlier this week reflects the same bleak picture for the GOP. According to a Reuters poll, 4 in 10 Americans believe Christine Blasey Ford while 3 in 10 do not, largely divided along party lines. But there is a significant number of Americans who simply aren’t sure what to believe. Regardless of the credibility issue, most Americans agree Brett Kavanaugh shouldn’t sit on the Supreme Court. Support for his confirmation slipped an additional five points, with 41% of Americans opposed to his nomination.

So far, since the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh came out, conservative women have been careful not to criticize survivors of sexual assault. In fact, Kellyanne Conway shared her own experience, attempting not to violate the sacred pact of sisterhood while still adhering to the demands of her party’s tribalism. But it’s a tightrope walk that isn’t winning the Republicans any points among women voters.

By continuing to champion Brett Kavanaugh, the GOP may have sealed their fate in the midterms, ushering in an exodus of women from the Republican party that’ll leave their ranks high and dry for decades to come. It’s a breathtaking risk to take, especially for a man accused of sexual assault whom many former classmates and friends have confessed had a serious drinking problem. Earlier this week, documents from the American Bar Association confirmed Kavanaugh did not, in their opinion, demonstrate the proper disposition for an appointment to the federal court back in 2006, much less a lifetime SCOTUS seat. Why on earth is the GOP choosing to die on this hill?

The answer may lie in a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in September. Participants were asked the following question:

“If a political candidate has been accused of sexual assault by multiple people, would you still consider voting for them if you agreed with them on the issues, or would you definitely not vote for them?”

Fifty-six percent of Republicans replied affirmatively that they would vote for someone with serious and credible allegations of sexual assault, although Republican women were significantly less likely to do so than Republican men. In contrast, 81 percent of Democrats said they would not vote for such a compromised candidate under any circumstances.

This goes well beyond numbers and polls. This gets to the heart of who we are as people and what we value. Democrats forced the resignation of Al Franken at a time when Republicans supported and financed Roy Moore, even after well-documented allegations of his assault and abuse of teenage girls. By supporting survivors, focusing on electing women, and paying attention to women’s issues as human issues, they’ve placed themselves squarely on the right side of history. It’s given Democrats political capital to spend in this election, and it’s resulted in a heavy cost for Republicans, who will continue to hemorrhage women voters.

New data out this week indicates that the contentious battle over Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court has driven up enthusiasm among GOP voters, but there are some clues that even that last pulse of voter turnout can not stem the blue wave. Because what’s hidden in these polling numbers is a simple fact. The GOP base is shrinking, and as it becomes more concentrated, the numbers of people who support extreme right-wing views and candidates will strengthen. Don’t be fooled. No matter how you do the math. The numbers are not on the GOP’s side. And no matter how many rage-fueled benders GOP senators go on, it will not turn this tide.

Women are rightfully and righteously angry.

And they are coming for the GOP in November.

Opinion // Brett Kavanaugh / Donald Trump / Republican Party / Women