In the fall of 2018, as the Senate considered the controversial appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill a position on the US Supreme Court, all eyes were on a handful of Republican and Democratic senators who might decide the vote. If enough Republicans broke with Senate President and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the nomination could be blocked. If enough Democrats would join the president and majority leader, it would be inevitable.
The final vote was 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh. One Republican refused to support Trump’s election. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska. A Democrat joined the Republicans Joe Manchin from West Virginia. Both represented states that voted for Trump in 2016. Murkowski, who did not stand for re-election, would be universally welcomed for her political courage. Manchin, who stood for re-election and would win in a tight squeeze in November, was portrayed as a pragmatist who “knew what to do” to keep his seat.
However, these were by no means the only significant votes for the Kavanaugh nomination. Of equal interest were the voices of the Republican senators representing more liberal states who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 and yet supported the scandalous presidential candidate in 2018. and by Democrats from more conservative states who supported Trump but opposed Kavanaugh.
The political costs were counted here in 2018 and are still counted today. A pair of Republicans who were critical of Kavanaugh – Susan Collins from Maine and Cory Gardner from Colorado – could lose their seats this year. Heidi Heidkamp from North Dakota, a Democrat who was already facing a tough race in a strongly republican state, rejected Kavanaugh and had to face a defeat in 2018. Three Democrats, who were seen in tougher competitions, also took on Kavanaugh and lost: Claire McCaskell from Missouri, Joe from Indiana Donnelly and Florida’s Bill Nelson. Dean Heller, a Republican supported by Kavanaugh, was beaten in Nevada.
Of course, every political competition has its own dynamic, and the Senatorial decisions made in 2018 Supreme Court decisions weren’t the only problems, but it’s just a reality that in the weeks leading up to an election, a nomination battle with high levels Wagering can be a factor in this choice.
Is the lesson that Democrats who want to win conservative states that have backed Trump are politically doomed if they oppose Trump’s efforts to find another candidate for the Supreme Court before the 2020 elections?
Just ask the Montana Senator Jon Tester. In 2018, he ran for re-election in a state that supported Trump by a margin more than 20 points two years earlierand he had already opposed another Trump candidate for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch. But unlike many Democrats who found themselves in a difficult position in 2018, Tester was reasonably quick and extremely clear in announcing his opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination. More than a week before the Senate vote, the Montana senator said he had a long list of reasons to reject the candidate.
“I have concerns that Judge Kavanaugh was defending the PATRIOT Act in lieu of Montanan’s privacy” Tester announced. He continued:
I have concerns about his support for more dark money in politics. I have concerns about who they believe is responsible for personal health decisions. And I am deeply concerned about the sexual assault allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. Unfortunately, Judge Kavanaugh was unable to find time to discuss these concerns with me personally. The only information I have is from what he said in his hearings. I will vote against him.
That gave the Republicans plenty of time to beat up testers. Trump stepped in and offered strong support for Auditor Matt Rosendale, who entered the competition in 2018 with a record of races and wins at the national level. So did the large special-interest money from DC and from across the country, which poured millions into attack reports that would form the framework most expensive Senate race in Montana history.
When the votes were counted on November 6, 2018, Tester sat down 18,000 votes, for a 50-46 margin. No landslide. But definitely a win.
How did Tester do that? By basing his discussion of the nomination campaign and all other issues of this election year on the issues that are close to the hearts of voters in his state. For this reason, the first objection he raised was the candidate’s role in defending the attacks on civil liberties contained in the PATRIOT Act – smart policies in a state where both liberals and conservatives are deeply concerned about privacy rights do. It is also why the Senator, who has always placed great emphasis on personal values and accountability, spoke bluntly of his deep concern over allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. It is important to know the issues that are important in the state you represent, to know the values and sensitivities of that state and to speak to them without excuse, even at a time when our politics are nationalized by the media.
Tester knows this, and he’s written a lovely new book on the politics of the place, titled:
This is a book that speaks to the immediate moment as Trump and McConnell prepare to ram in the week leading up to a critical election by another Supreme Court candidate. Many of the most competitive races in the Senate take place in states where Trump won big in 2016 and where he could win again in 2020. States like Alabama (where another brave opponent of the Kavanaugh nomination, Doug Jones, runs), Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, and Montana. Democrat candidates must take a stand. For advice on how to do it right, check out Jon Testers Grounded.