Michael Ledeen is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Washington is changing, as we can see from the abrupt shifts in the positions of Congressional “leaders” on the Kavanaugh matter, although several of them—Sasse and Flake come quickly to mind--are headed for post-government employment. Some others are changing employers in the “private sector” (media, for example), even while changing ideology. And I am told that formerly ambitious younger people are actually leaving town.
Well, we knew we were living through a massive paradigm shift, didn’t we? Still, it was a big surprise to read Brett Stephens’ praise of President Trump, wasn’t it?
I suspect that one of the biggest changes will be in the behavior of Justice Kavanaugh. Prior to the past few weeks, he was a textbook case of a successful member of the Washington establishment. And while he knew that the Democrats were desperate to defeat his candidacy, I don’t think he expected the McCarthyite assault to which he was subjected. I don’t think he anticipated the rejection of “innocent until proven guilty,” nor the widespread embrace of Dr. Ford’s totally unsubstantiated claims.
Now he knows better. He knows that the left, having lost most of the crucial policy debates, has decided that their only hope for national political power rests in their ability to destroy their critics. He knows that the left will not hesitate to slime their critics with all the accusations they can make up, just as Joe McCarthy did.
So the attacks will likely intensify. The media are full of Democrat and progressive calls to double down on the nastiness, perhaps attempting to impeach Kavanaugh, perhaps focusing on the removal of the president. But first they have to do well in the Congressional elections, and that is by no means certain. I hope you remember that, some weeks ago, I predicted that the November elections would be a replay of the failed McGovernism of the 1960s. Recent polls suggest that we are headed in that direction. The American people are not eager for violent challenge to the system, and may well reject the new “socialists” and their announced ideology, which has failed wherever and whenever it has been installed.
So the first big change is to Kavanaugh himself, who sees the left with a clarity that was impossible before his ordeal. The second change is on the left itself, where the leaders of the moment seem to believe that they need more radicalism, more calls to violence, and more McCarthyism.
The third big change is within Republican ranks. If you had asked Schumer and Pelosi what the GOP would do in the face of the Ford assault, I’d have given you long odds they’d have predicted a collapse from McConnell, Grassley, and the White House. You wouldn’t have disagreed, would you? That was. After all, the pattern, it was what we had all come to expect. But, amazingly, the opposite happened: the Republicans decided to fight, and to stick to that decision to the last.
If any one person deserves credit for this change, it’s Justice Kavanaugh, who had several chances to withdraw from the battlefield. As the country saw, he opted to keep fighting. None of the key players—I’m talking about McConnell, Grassley, and of course Trump himself—suggested he might opt out. Quite the contrary, in fact. They all said they would stick with Kavanaugh so long as he had the stomach for the fight. As we entered the final couple of days, it was the Democrats who backed away, and Republicans like Susan Collins and Lindsay Graham who defined the real issues.
The momentous transformation of the Republicans might not have been possible if Senator McCain had been alive and in decent health. I doubt we’d have treated to Senator Graham’s heart-felt defense of Kavanaugh if McCain had been there.
So now what? I don’t think the left can win with their strategy of constant attack and relentless calls for the elimination of leading Republicans. It seems to me that Democrat leaders are spouting nonsense, and that sliming Republicans won’t be good enough to recapture the legislature. I think the Republicans are on a winning course, emphasizing their candidates’ virtues versus the Democrats’ nastiness.
We’ll know soon enough, and we’ll see how deep these changes will be.