Post-Kavanaugh, Republicans have grown insatiable: Sore winners throw salt in women's wounds

After by far the biggest political victory of the Trump era, all Republicans want to do is whine and cast blame

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published October 9, 2018 7:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump; Brett Kavanaugh (AP/Salon)
Donald Trump; Brett Kavanaugh (AP/Salon)

If the bruising battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court cemented one new truism of American politics in the Trump era, it is that Republicans have grown insatiable.

Since Donald Trump’s surprise election victory nearly two years ago, the president and his followers have suffered from a "sore winner" syndrome that finds them locked in a perpetual search for a fight in which they can declare themselves the true victims — even after a clear and dominant victory. Their complaints have only grown louder the further away from real-world harm they move.

Even after managing to lock in a conservative Supreme Court by confirming the least popular nominee since Robert Bork, Republicans have reveled in rubbing their victory in the faces of sexual assault survivors everywhere, apparently to gin up their base ahead of the midterm elections.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, couldn’t bother to offer a decent explanation for why there has never been a female Republican on the committee in its 202-year history. The Republican men on the committee had to hire a “female assistant,” Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, to question Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during her Senate testimony.

After admitting that he and his chief of staff of 33 years failed to “get the job done,” Grassley pointed to the workload as a deterrent for women who would serve on the powerful committee.

“It’s a lot of work -- maybe they don’t want to do it,” he concluded.

He later added, after receiving widespread backlash, that “on average, any woman in the United States Senate, whether they’re on Judiciary or any other committee, probably works harder than the average man.”

But Republicans continued that flippant attitude towards women even after it became clear that the GOP had won the long-fought battle.

President Trump has mocked Ford’s testimony and portrayed Kavanaugh as “a man that was caught up in a hoax set up by the Democrats.” Apparently not satisfied with winning a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, Trump called in to Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro to demand that alleged sexual assault survivors, be criminally prosecuted for publicly accusing Kavanaugh.

“I think that they should be held liable,” he said of the women who he claimed made up “fabrications” about his nominee. “You can destroy somebody’s life.”

As with all of the outrageous antics that emanate from Trump, this sentiment has spread well beyond the president.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page, which the previous night had published an op-ed by Kavanaugh, ran the headline “Susan Collins Consents,” an implicit rape joke, after the Maine Republican announced her intention to support Kavanaugh. The hashtag #BeersforBrett began trending Saturday night after Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, tweeted an image of his congratulatory drink for Kavanaugh by gloating about the newest Supreme Court justice’s frat boy image:

"I think the roles were reversed: The slut whore drunk was Kavanaugh," South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham saidspiking the football following a successful final confirmation vote on Saturday.

The ultimate goal of the conservative narrative is to create an atmosphere that depresses Democratic turnout, but it could also backfire and create more force behind the Blue Wave.

Kavanaugh's confirmation may serve to undercut the “white men are the real victims” shtick that got Trump elected -- at least for anybody outside his hardcore base. Pew Research Center is now reporting that 63 percent of women disapprove of how Trump is doing his job. According to a new Post/Schar School poll, in 69 House districts that Donald Trump or a Republican member of Congress won in 2016 by 15 points or more, women voters now favor the Democratic candidates by 54 to 40.

Of course, the crucial question to ask when presented with that kind of political data would be: Which women are we talking about?

In 2014, when Republicans won control of the Senate and grew their lead in the House, white college-educated women preferred a Democratic Congress by just 2 points. College-educated white women now prefer Democrats by a whopping 62 to 35 percent. Even more notably, 54 percent of independent women opposed Kavanaugh's nomination, according to a NPR/Marist poll released last week. And a new CNN poll reports that 52 percent of all voters say they believe the women accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct over the judge's denials. 

But as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after the initial accusations against Kavanaugh were made public, Republicans look ready to just “plow” through whatever woman-powered resistance may be rising out there.

"I know I'm a single white male from South Carolina, and I'm told I should shut up, but I will not shut up,” Sen. Lindsey Graham defiantly shouted during his memorably heated “Braveheart” moment in defense of Kavanaugh. After an unprecedented prime-time swearing-in ceremony on Monday, Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, up for re-election in state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, tweeted that the “smears backfired”:

All this GOP gloating is about one thing: driving turnout.

Midterms are about base turnout. Historically low turnout rates mean that pivotal elections are dominated by the most animated voters. Republicans have obviously calculated that their voters appreciate all this whining even in victorious times and that a sense of shared, collective victimhood can overcome the tangible rage of nearly all groups of women.  

For a path of resistance for Democrats frustrated by Republicans’ antics, look to how Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota has handled her controversial decision on Kavanaugh. After her Republican challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, criticized her "no" vote by dismissing #MeToo, led by sexual assault survivors, as a movement for the weak, Heitkamp doubled down by sharing her personal experience of assault and defending her vote in campaign ads.

The battle lines have already been drawn, so Democrats would be wise to own this loss as fuel. The midterms will ultimately be the lingering battle of 2016; a fight between the indignant losers and the sore winners.

I’ve always contended that Hillary Clinton’s campaign made its biggest strategic blunder when it decided not to explicitly link Donald Trump to the entire Republican Party. Writing about interviews with 10 lifelong Republican women who have left the GOP since the 2016 election, Politico’s E.J. Graff notes that “Trump alone didn’t push these women to shed their Republican labels; other GOP politicians’ unquestioning support for Trump did that. Several told me they were angry that an all-Republican government has become the party of fiscal waste, deficits, trade wars and rebates for the wealthy.”

Prior to the Kavanaugh fight, health care consistently ranked as the top concern of voters in polls. Republicans’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a big loss that had clearly depressed enthusiasm of the GOP base. Winning a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, even on the wounds of women -- and especially on the wounds of the women apparently most turned off by the maneuver -- may have given Republicans a short-term boost. In the end, it may cost them dearly.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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