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The Ford-Kavanaugh hearings: Who won?

Even the most bullish Democratic pollsters are sceptical about a resounding November win

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand speaking to protestors rallying against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill, on Oct 4, in Washington, DC. There is a growing feeling in Washington that the Democrats and their supporters may have overplayed their hand during the debate over the Kavanaugh nomination.

IT'S no secret that Brett Kavanaugh was not President Donald Trump's first choice as a nominee for the US Supreme Court. Judge Kavanaugh had worked in the White House under former Republican President George W Bush, a fierce critic of Mr Trump in addition to having close personal and political ties to members of the GOP establishment in Washington that include many Never Trumpers.

So it was not surprising, as some news reports indicated, that the populist President's first choice for the Supreme Court was an outsider like himself, the 46-year-old Circuit Court Judge and former law professor, Amy Coney Barrett. While the Democrats in the Senate may have disagreed with the views of this Catholic jurist on abortion and other socio-cultural issues, they would probably have been reluctant to reject the nomination of a woman to the Supreme Court. In that case and in an ironic twist, the current #MeToo political zeitgeist could have benefited President Trump and his Supreme Court nominee.

But under pressure from Republican lawmakers and other establishment types in Washington, President Trump decided to embrace Judge Kavanaugh who seemed initially to be a safe political bet, until reports suggested that he may have been involved in a sexual assault.

For several days, the American media coverage was dominated by the allegations about the incident that the accuser, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, said had taken place 36 years ago when she and Mr Kavanaugh were teenagers and attended a party in Bethesda, Maryland. And then there were the accusations by two other women relating to young Kavanaugh's misbehaviour in high school and college.

Some of President Trump's supporters then suggested that the most politically cost-effective step by him would have been to withdraw the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh and to instead press ahead with the nomination of Judge Barrett.

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The Republicans have been relying on the support of a narrow majority in the Senate and the concern was that Republican female senators, joined by one or two centrist GOP lawmakers, under the impact of the sexual misconduct allegations and being sensitive to pressure from women's groups, would not approve Judge Kavanaugh's nomination. That would have delivered a major political blow to the White House, bringing an end to Republican hopes of having a majority of five conservative judges in the Supreme Court.

Moreover, a long and protracted Senate debate over the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, with extensive public airing of the sexual misconduct accusations by three women, had the potential of eroding support among women for Republican candidates in the midterm congressional elections in November, even (or especially) if President Trump's nominee won the nomination.

But President Trump decided to take a calculated political risk and to stick by his man. The move may have ended up paying off for the embattled President who remains under the investigation of a Special Counsel over allegations that his election campaign had colluded with Russian officials to deprive the Democratic presidential candidate of election victory in November 2016.

While Dr Ford's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was praised as "believable" and "credible" by many politicians and pundits who, on the other hand, criticised Judge Kavanaugh for being too "emotional", "angry" and partisan during his appearance before the committee, it seemed that the Senate hearings and the lack of concrete evidence to support the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh failed to sway female and centrist Republican senators to vote against him.

While everyone seems to agree that the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings and the noisy public protests on the sidelines helped produce a sense of drama - and perhaps even a unique political moment that highlighted the #MeToo agenda - it is not clear to what extent all of this is going to affect the outcome of the midterm elections, and by extension, to determine the fate of the Trump presidency.

Earlier Democratic hopes and Republican fears centred on the expectations that the political and media spectacle in Washington would energise the electoral base of the Democratic party and lead many Republican women to vote against their party in November. That in turn, could have strengthened the Democrats' chances of winning control of the House of Representatives and the Senate and open the way to impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

But there is a growing feeling in Washington that the Democrats and their supporters may have overplayed their hand during the debate over the Kavanaugh nomination. More specifically, that the main target of the Democratic campaign - Republican suburban women - may have been politically alienated by the images of the angry protesters interrupting the Senate hearings and targeting for personal attacks Judge Kavanaugh and his family, while threatening to retaliate against those senators who supported his nomination.

At the same time, while there is very little doubt that the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings would help mobilise supporters of the Democrats in November, who have been energised even before the #MeToo movement in Washington, it is also quite likely that more Republicans would get out to vote in November as a way of supporting President Trump in the face of Democrats' threats to impeach him and Judge Kavanaugh in the next two years.

The Democrats still have a better than 50 per cent chance of taking over the House of Representatives, especially if they win around 20 "red" or Republican-leaning congressional districts that went for Candidate Clinton two years ago.

But then, even the most bullish Democratic pollsters are sceptical that their party would declare victory in the Senate in November and are worried that their party could end up losing two or three Senate seats in the midterms.

In fact, the most electorally vulnerable Democrats would be those senators who represent "red" states that went big for President Trump in 2016, but who voted against the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh last week, such as Joe Donnelly from Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota, and Jon Tester from Montana.

But Joe Manchin from West Virginia, the only Democrat who voted in support of Judge Kavanaugh's nomination, is expected to get re-elected in November.

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