I’ve learned many lessons over my 23 years in sales. The biggest is never let your emotions get the better of you. Once that happens it’s over. You not only lose the sale, you lose the customer. It’s a lesson, sadly, I’ve had to learn over and over.
The news that Susan Collins and Joe Manchin have decided to vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court is certainly sad but hardly shocking. I fully expected both to vote Yes. The real surprise was Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp voting No. Murkowski was facing a lot of pressure from her home state of Alaska, where both the governor and lieutenant governor were on record as being against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Heitkamp was already trailing her Republican opponent in this year’s midterm. Her decision will likely cost her the election. If you want a real profile in courage, look no further.
But now that it’s over, now that Kavanaugh is but a few precious hours away from being the next justice on the Supreme Court, what should Democrats and progressives do? Well, for starter, they can’t afford to lose do their composure. To do that would be to play right into the hands of Trump and his supporters. They want this fight; Democrats cannot give them one, at least not this one. Democrats have already lost this battle; they cannot lose the war.
Look, I realize that emotions are high. This was a gut punch, but one we should have seen coming. The whole second hearing was a set up from the beginning. Christine Blasey Ford was never going to get a fair hearing. We knew that going in, and I suspect do did Dr. Ford. Her courage was nonetheless inspiring. What all of us need to do is channel our emotions into a positive energy. As the saying goes, don’t get mad, get even. And here’s how we and the Democrats can get even.
1. Change back the narrative. Trump was able to galvanize support for Kavanaugh by reframing the debate from Dr. Ford being the victim to Kavanaugh being the victim. All of a sudden, instead of the story being about women who have been sexually abused and attacked, all we heard was what it must be like to be a “son” or “husband” and be falsely accused of a crime. The image of Trump mocking Ford at a rally, sickening though it may have been, struck a nerve with many men and, sadly, even a few women. Just one look at the recent polling indicates that the strategy was successful, if disturbing.
The statistics, however, belie the claims Trump is touting. The fact is one in three women have been the victim of sexual discrimination, abuse or assault. By comparison, only a few dozen men – most of them celebrities, journalists or politicians – have been accused of sexual misconduct or assault over the past eighteen months. The simple truth is that a man has a greater chance of drowning in his own bathtub than being accused of sexual misconduct.
It is essential that Democrats drive this fact home and remind voters that what Trump is doing is nothing more than a scare tactic designed to illicit fear among men that women are somehow out to get them. It’s not their sons they should be worried about, it’s their daughters. How many of those one in three women will have the courage to come forward and tell their stories after watching how Dr. Ford was treated? Democrats must be both disciplined and relentless in their messaging here. There can be no room for error.
2. Organize. There are barely four weeks left before the midterms, so time is of the essence. Democrats must get their act together. For the last year and a half, most of the energy on the Democratic side has been simply anti Trump. This has allowed Democrats to build a rather healthy lead in the enthusiasm gap against their Republican counterparts. That gap is all but gone. Republican voters are now energized, perhaps not as much as Democrats, but they’re within striking distance. The difference will come down to suburban voters, specifically women suburban voters.
But even though they key is getting women organized, Democrats should not forget that while the female vote is not monolithic, neither is the male vote. Many men saw Dr. Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and they were moved by it. While Trump’s tribalism tactics will no doubt galvanize a majority of men – especially older, white men – to vote Republican this November, it could also have the unintended consequence of backfiring. Many men will rightly be repulsed by how Trump and the GOP treated Ford and will look for alternatives when they go to the polls. Democrats must make it clear to them that this is not about exacting revenge. If women are ever to be afforded equal status in this society, men will have to be a part of that discussion.
3. Enough with the impeachment talk. Whether you think Kavanaugh belongs on the bench or in a jail cell, it is absolutely imperative that Democrats – particularly progressive Democrats – get it through their heads that impeachment of a sitting Supreme Court justice is about as rare as getting a suntan on a moonless night. It just doesn’t happen, and it won’t happen here. For one thing, while Kavanaugh’s hearing was indeed a job interview, meaning the burden of proof was on him to account for any issues or concerns regarding his past, once confirmed, the burden of proof for removing him will be on his accusers. Much as it pains me to admit, the prosecutor Republicans hired to question Ford was correct when she said she wouldn’t have enough evidence to bring an indictment against Kavanaugh in a criminal proceeding. In an actual court of law, he would have the presumption of innocence and more than likely would prevail in any impeachment trial involving him.
The only purpose that can be served by talk of impeachment is to energize the Republican base, the very thing Democrats don’t want. If the goal is preventing Trump from nominating any more justices to both the lower and Supreme courts, the best way to ensure that is by winning the Senate. Revenge tactics will only help the other side. It is one thing to lose a battle; it is quite another to lose the war. Which leads me to my next point.
4. Lay off of Manchin and other Red-state Democrats. Yes, Heidi Keitkamp took the high ground and voted her conscience, a rare commodity in politics these days, or anywhere for that matter. And for her efforts, she will likely lose. But Democrats do not need martyrs right now, they need survivors, and Joe Manchin’s survival in West Virginia, along with that of Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Jon Tester in Montana, is crucial to any hopes the party has of regaining its Senate majority. Like it or not, there is no path to 51 seats without Blue Dog Dems prevailing this fall.
If progressives, rightly outraged by how Dr. Ford was treated, take their revenge out on Manchin, et al, they will consign the Democratic Party to permanent minority status. And if that happens, the courts of this country will be populated by judges who will eradicate the last hundred years of jurisprudence and turn back the clock to the 1800s. And those judges, unlike the politicians who appointed them, will be on the bench for life. Think about that the next time you contemplate fixing some “phony” Democrat’s wagon. The nose you cut off might well be your own. And last, but not least.
5. VOTE. We’ve been down this path before. With the exception of the 2006 midterms, Democrats have had problems turning out their base. If that happens again this year, it’s game, set and match. All the energy and enthusiasm in the world will mean nothing if people stay home.
Last month, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes went to Michigan to interview some young people as to why they didn’t vote in the 2016 election. One man said Hillary didn’t “inspire” him. I have never thrown anything at a TV before, but that night I gave it some serious consideration. Clinton lost the state of Michigan by 15,000 votes, and it was due in no small part to people like this who felt that they had to be “inspired” to get off their ass and do their civic duty. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, two states that were decided by a combined total of 65,000 votes, other likeminded individuals decided they weren’t “inspired” enough and chose to stay home. And that’s how Trump became president.
Progressives must abandon this immature and self-defeating mindset that every candidate that runs for office must be pure or “inspiring.” The Bernie wing of the party is by no means the only wing. Nor does it necessarily represent the majority of Democrats. There’s a reason Hillary Clinton won the nomination in 2016, and no it wasn’t because the DNC stole it from Bernie; it was because a majority of Democrats thought she was the better choice to lead the party. She may have run the worst campaign in modern history, but that doesn’t change the fact that her positions resonated with more voters than Bernie’s.
If a center-left Democrat like Tim Ryan should emerge from the pack of candidates running in 2020 to win the nomination, progressives will need to bite down hard and swallow, just like they did in ’92 when Bill Clinton was the nominee. It won’t be the end of the world if Ryan becomes the next president. Donald Trump winning a second term in office, now that would be the end of the world.