The conventional wisdom so far has been that the Kavanaugh confirmation theatrics helped Republicans in the midterms by motivating conservative voters. Any #bluewave depends at least in part on higher enthusiasm and turnout on the left, so the thinking goes an uptick in GOP enthusiasm may negate that advantage.
Polling numbers in the immediate days following the confirmation seemed to put the Senate out of Democratic reach (though they’ve come back towards the center a bit since then). That’s definitely one possibility, and maybe it’s even the most likely, but it’s not the only potential outcome.
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If you watch the video of Trump mocking Dr. Blasey Ford, there are about 20 adults visible behind him. Two of them look very uncomfortable and only applaud reluctantly and after a brief delay compared to their neighbors. I don’t want to speak for other human beings, but what if that episode crossed a line for them…and presumably millions of others across the land?
To be clear, this whole episode has implications about how our society treats sexual abuse and survivors that go way beyond politics. But November is the first opportunity for most Americans to be heard regarding this incident, and the politics are interesting.
There are obviously a huge subset of Republicans who have personal experiences with sexual assault, or experiences they know of within their family.
Think of how many women have survived an assault, or know someone who has. Think of how many tolerate repeated and often casual harassment today. Now imagine them seeing a clearly credible accuser be mocked by the President they voted for, and getting a firm reminder if they were to come forward it would affect their job, family and friendships.
Think of how many men have revisited their past behavior throughout this incident. While many – on Twitter it seems like a vast majority – have laughed them off, is it really so hard to believe a few are now considering those actions through the lenses of their daughters, nieces, employees and other young women in their lives? Might they also conclude Time’s Up?
Would Polling Capture This?
These are very personal challenges to grapple with. For most Republicans, it wasn’t just the President ridiculing Dr. Blasey Ford, it was also people in their lives. For the few who get contacted by a poll, is this something they’d share, especially if they take the call while in the company of those same family and friends?
This may be something people change their minds on privately, especially when their spouse, parents or good friends are die-hard Republicans and Trump supporters. In fact, I suspect a lot of people disappointed in Trump’s antics are still debating if it’s going to affect their votes.
The reality is it won’t take many to make a difference. There were two people out of twenty who caught my eye in that video. If one in 10 Trump supporters are troubled by the way Dr. Blasey Ford was treated, it would only take a few of them acting on it to tilt the playing field on Election Day.
If out of 100 voters, one Republican switches sides for this election and another decides to vote third party, that’s a net three-point swing. The current generic ballot favors Democrats by about eight points. If it jumps to 11, the changes on November 6th could be enormous.
There’s currently about 30 House seats and four Senate races (MO, FL, AZ, NV) considered tossups, and a three-point shift would decide the vast majority of them. In the House there’s a similar number of seats rated “Lean R”, and they would suddenly become coin flips at best for the GOP.
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Maybe this won’t have an effect. Maybe any Republicans uncomfortable with the treatment of Dr. Blasey Ford will ultimately stick with their team. Or maybe any losses will be offset by increased conservative enthusiasm, which is what Trump was clearly going for.
Those possibilities absolutely exist, and shouldn’t be ignored just because they’ll disappoint many. I won’t deny I’m engaging in some wishful thinking here. But human beings are affected by a wide variety of factors, and you never know what’s going on just beneath the surface.
Sexual assault and the victim-shaming that comes with it are not limited to one side of the aisle. Democrats and most independents felt the way Dr. Blasey Ford was treated was disgraceful, and it seems likely many Republicans felt the same way. If they act on those feelings, Washington D.C. may look very different come January.