Do you remember what the political landscape looked like before L’affaire Kavanaugh? If you don’t, that’s not surprising. A week in politics is long; a month in Trumpworld is an eternity.
Let us rewind, then, to that dim-lit Sunday, September 16, when the Washington Post first ran the Christine Blasey Ford story. Trump was in trouble. His approval rating was 40 per cent. The Dems were surging in the polls; and talk was all about a midterm blue wave crashing over the administration.
The rumbling of a trade war with China was giving fright. The Mueller, Cohen, Manafort scandals were bumping along, each adding to the common sense that, even if no smoking Russian gun, Trump’s circle is significantly dodgier than a President’s should be. Trump also irritated large chunks of the public by bigging up his administration’s emergency responsiveness before Storm Florence had even struck.
When businesses and politicians are stuck in a rut, PR men tell them to change the media narrative. Trump didn’t do that, though he tried. The Democrats and the anti-Trump resistance did it for him. They turned Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination into a pitched #MeToo battle, which turned into Culture World War III. In the process, they energised a conservative base that had started to feel exhausted by Trump. Now, the ‘Kavanaugh effect’, combined with the supercharged economy, explains why the Republicans are faring much better than they were at the start of September. Trump’s own rating is up to 51 per cent approval, according to the latest Rasmussen study. In key Senate races, too, the high emotions generated by the Kavanaugh fight are boosting GOP numbers: in Texas, for instance, and North Dakota.
For every reaction a counter-reaction, of course, and now pundits left, right and centre are warning of a coming backlash to Kavanaugh. Underestimate women’s anger at your peril, they say, pointing towards 1992, the ‘Year of the Woman’ which followed l’affaire Clarence Thomas. But 2018 is not 1992. In 1992 there were three women senators; now there are 23. That’s not parity, or what fools call equality. But given that Sens Feinstein, Collins and Murkowski played such prominent roles in the Kavanaugh battle, the injustice doesn’t cry out for redress in the same way.
It’s true, no doubt, that many women are enraged, and the activist wings of both parties are electrified. Midterm turn out should be high. But the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ base is stronger than the ‘believe women or else’ base. Most people accept the fundamental principles of jurisprudence and can see that, while ‘believing women’ might have sentimental force, it doesn’t make for a just society. Those ululating harridans in the Senate last week are as much if not more of a boon to Republicans as the alt-right brigade in Charlottesville have been to the anti-Trump cause.
Trump doesn’t have to be a great commander-in-chief. He has great fortune (I don’t mean money). Every time he is due to fail, his antagonists find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Republicans who opposed him in 2016 endlessly managed to trip over each other. Hillary Clinton was obviously the best opponent any Republican nominee could dream of. The winds of fate helped Trump preside over an economic mega-boom. And now, a virulent feminism, which demands more than justice, has given him an arguably undeserved reprieve in time for the midterms. It does so while screaming about sex and genitals in a manner that is far more off-puttingly vulgar than anything Donald Trump, for all his locker room talk, could ever manage.
Some believe Trump is a strategic genius — the President himself certainly thinks so. But even the greatest brain could never have anticipated quite how dramatically the Kavanaugh story would change the political script in his favour in October.
Trump may not appeal to a majority of women. But lady luck wears a MAGA hat. The Democrats for their part seem to have a death wish. They have been shown, time and again, that identity politics and victimhood-mongering are not a successful at the ballot — yet they stick to those divisive tactics ever more tightly. It’s a bizarre suicide.