Mitch McConnell might have Brett Kavanaugh to thank for more pleasant meals.
On Friday, lunching with the Senate majority leader in Louisville, I watched several fried fish enthusiasts approach McConnell to gush over his leadership on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation. Hearty handshakes and picture requests were as plentiful as the tartar sauce. One couple wanted McConnell to pose with their baby. Men and women, young and old — the demographic distribution was wide.
Not long ago McConnell was hounded as he ate in Louisville, with the angry liberal mob ruining his meals. But things are different now, even as both parties rush to claim political victory over the contentious Supreme Court battle.
Famed Democratic strategist James Carville said on CNN that Kavanaugh “is worth a lot more alive than dead,” arguing that “in terms of political optimization, I think today’s result is probably as good as you could hope for.” Democrats say the political reckoning will come among women, as they point to a large gender gap in national surveys.
But I saw with my own eyes what Republican strategists see in battleground Senate polling: post-Kavanaugh, Republicans are finally “galvanized.” Said one retired school teacher to the Courier Journal attending President Donald Trump’s weekend rally in Richmond, Kentucky: “A lot of Republicans had slacked off — [Kavanaugh] brought them back. It certainly energized me.”
Democrats once thought their blue wave might crash onshore in reliably red Texas and Tennessee, but polling shows Beto O’Rourke and Phil Bredesen stranded like rowboats on a sandbar. It’s a wonder that anyone in the Lonestar State can get a good night’s sleep given the loud and perpetual flushing sound of starstruck liberal donors depositing $61 million in a Texas-sized toilet in their vain attempt to topple Ted Cruz. Democrats, always looking for a messiah, chose poorly in Beto, a skateboarding goofball who once fled a DUI crash scene.
As for Bredesen, his volunteers and independent benefactors are quitting left and right since he announced that he would have supported Kavanaugh. Ah, the plight of a supposed moderate Democrat trying to simultaneously please a conservative electorate and his party’s liberal base. As the Good Book tells us, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Bredesen to get back in the good graces of the angry mob. Republicans expect Marsha Blackburn to shake off Bredesen, leaving Taylor Swift, who endorsed the Democrat just before the bottom fell out, to cry teardrops on her guitar.
In North Dakota, incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, a liberal posing as a moderate in a state that voted for Trump by 36 points, is watching Republican Kevin Cramer pull away. The jig is up for Heitkamp after voting against Trump’s tax cut and siding with the angry mob on Kavanaugh. And the same may be true for Democratic incumbents in Missouri and Montana, where rural conservatives are hopping mad about Senate Democrats’ hysterical overreaching and blockade against all things Trump.
Democrats are also scrambling in Nevada and Arizona, must-win states if they hope to gain control. Nevada is the only tilt featuring a Republican incumbent defending a seat in Hillary Clinton territory, but resilient Dean Heller has a slight lead following his vote for Kavanaugh. The Arizona race is a dead heat, but old soundbites of Democrat Kyrsten Sinema saying she wanted to work with “anarchists, socialists, communists” and “didn’t care” if Americans joined the Taliban have her on defense with three weeks to go. Sinema may go down as the Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell of this cycle.
There’s a decent chance that McConnell will have an even larger majority when the midterm dust settles. With a conference of 51, he’s beholden to two moderates —Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. With 52 votes or more, however, McConnell can lose them both and watch Vice President Mike Pence break ties when necessary. If another Supreme Court vacancy occurs during Trump’s first term, Republicans would have the flexibility to nominate the most conservative, pro-life choice they can find. If you think the mob is angry now…just wait.
While the Senate races look good for Republicans, their fortunes in the House remain bleak. The most likely outcome is that Democrats win a majority thanks largely to GOP retirements and much more favorable political geography, although a wide range of outcomes remain possible. It appears, for now, that the Senate is from Mars and the House is from Venus. But then again, three weeks is an eternity in politics.
Scott Jennings is a CNN Contributor and Partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. Reach him at email@example.com. He is a 1996 graduate of Dawson Springs High School and a columnist for the Courier-Journal.