October 8, 2018

After Kavanaugh, Left Needs to Focus on Midterm Elections

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I was not surprised that the Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. Elections have consequences, and American voters have handed control of the federal government to Republicans. When we let that happen, this is the outcome we should expect. Of course, none of this means I am not still disappointed to see Kavanaugh join the Court. I am very disappointed, and I am worried about the changes we will likely see due to his presence. With the spectacle of the confirmation process behind us, some on the left are having trouble moving on and others are starting to ask a question worth asking, "Now what?"

My hope is that those on the left who are unhappy with Kavanaugh's appointment will use their frustration as motivation to vote in the midterm elections. Voter turnout is embarrassingly low in the U.S., and this is especially true when it comes to midterm elections. Perhaps Kavanaugh will help more people realize that midterm elections may be less glamorous than presidential elections but are not necessarily any less important. Unfortunately, it looks like the impressive lead the Democratic Party may have had in voter enthusiasm prior to Kavanaugh has gotten considerably smaller.

Prior to Kavanaugh, there was lots of talk about a "blue wave." Fueled by their hatred of President Trump, many on the left were fired up about the prospect of taking back the House (and not losing too much ground in the Senate). The midterm elections were to be a referendum on Trump, and Democrats were optimistic about gaining real ground in Congress. Talk of impeachment swirled, as many on the left realized that gaining control of the House could open this door. Polls showed that Democratic gains (at least in the House) were a very real possibility. Likely Democratic voters seemed to be considerably more enthusiastic than likely Republican voters.

The outlook is not so positive now. The gap in voter enthusiasm has closed. The spectacle around Kavanaugh and the manner in which some on the left have behaved appear to have woken up many on the right. They had a big win with Kavanaugh, and they want to hold on to what they have accomplished. They are also using every bit of craziness they see on the left to mobilize their base. Unfortunately, some on the left are making this far too easy on them.

Nobody wants to be told to "get over it" or to "move on," but some degree of moving on is what needs to happen now. Those on the left who worked so hard to oppose Kavanaugh made a difference. I know they lost, but they managed to affect the discussion, raise awareness of some important issues, and energize their base. For any of this to make a difference, they now need to refocus that energy into the next contest. And that contest is the midterm elections.

When it comes to activism, outrage is probably necessary but unlikely to be sufficient. Moreover, an over-reliance on outrage has some important costs associated with it. The left now faces a very real risk of widespread demoralization following the Kavanaugh loss. Demoralization often leads to voter apathy, and this is something the left cannot afford. This would be a good time for some potential leaders on the left to emerge to help the base through this loss and focus their energy on the midterm elections.