CUMBERLAND — The 2018 midterm battle for Congress is a race between anti-Trump, hysteria-driven voter enthusiasm on the left (i.e., the “blue wave”) and independent voters’ approval of President Trump’s economic and foreign policy track record. Simply, if Trump’s Twitter-led chaos overshadows his policy record enough to tip independents toward the Democratic Party, Democrats are likely to retake the House, and potentially the Senate.

With the generic ballot currently 7 points in favor of Democrats, the blue wave is several strides ahead. However, by putting on a lurid display of political chaos throughout the Kavanaugh confirmation process, Democrats have created an opening for Republicans to close the gap in the next four weeks. With Trump on message and in campaign mode (his most effective mode) and the U.S. economy booming, Democrats should be concerned.

The Democrats’ attempt to take down Brett Kavanaugh was a strategic error of potentially devastating consequence. By stooping to, if not below, Trump’s level of win-at-any-cost chaos, they removed the impetus for independents to vote Democratic primarily as a check on Trump’s disruption of democratic and constitutional norms. The midterm choice for independents is now primarily one of policy.

Unfortunately for Democrats, their platform of single-payer health care, $15 minimum wage and reversing the corporate tax cut is unlikely to sit well with independents in a roaring economy. Perhaps of even greater strategic consequence, by attacking Kavanaugh with an unproven sexual-assault allegation, one that paled in comparison to Democratic darling Bill Clinton’s substantiated exploits, they drove up Republican voters’ midterm enthusiasm.

From the opening bell of the Trump administration, “Never Trump” Republicans (e.g., George Will, Jeff Flake and Joe Scarborough), “Resistance” leaders (e.g., Corey “Spartacus” Booker and Kamala Harris) and the Democratic Party chose to go to war with Trump over his unseemly, chaotic behavior, betting on their belief that he had no policy strategy and would thus ultimately fail with voters on policy grounds. For example, Trump’s critics took literally the exaggerated claims that he’d ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. and make Mexico pay for a border wall, and inferred that someone making such claims could not possibly have a serious policy agenda.

Until the Kavanaugh hearings, Never Trumpers got lucky with this strategy. Despite the highly successful implementation of an ambitious multi-pronged economic and foreign policy agenda, by the end of August, President Trump had single-handedly set up his party for a 2010-like midterm thrashing via a variety of Twitter-led chaotic distractions. As Democratic strategist James Carville recently told The New York Times, “He won’t allow himself to get credit for the economy. He’s made himself bigger than the economy. Every conversation starts and ends with Trump.”

In a bit of irony, the Kavanaugh hearings began the first business day after John McCain’s funeral. In what The New Yorker called “the biggest resistance meeting yet,” Never Trumpers used the well-choreographed national stage of the funeral to preach about the virtues of a civil political discourse, one that McCain’s life supposedly represented, and one that President Trump must be stopped at any cost from supposedly dismantling. Within seconds of the opening hearing, Democrats dispensed with the sermon’s core tenets in dramatic fashion.

While Democrats could have likely survived turning the regular hearings into a circus, their sitting on Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh until after his confirmation hearings wrapped up turned her into a political pawn and took things over the top, opening the door to an impassioned Republican response. Lindsey Graham’s speech lit a fire under Republicans almost overnight, and, in what will most likely be considered one of the greatest Senate speeches of all time, our own Susan Collins made an extraordinary case for Brett Kavanaugh being closer to a Merrick Garland centrist than a women’s rights-destroying partisan.

We will only know in hindsight, but Collins may have been the nail in the coffin of the blue wave. If so, may it RIP.

 

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