In August, a CNN/SSRS poll found that Brett Kavanaugh was the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee in modern American history, with 40 percent of Americans opposing his nomination, and only 37 percent supporting it.
And the judge has only grown more disliked in the weeks since. In fact, by the time the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh to the Court this weekend, a majority of American voters wanted his nomination rejected, according to CNN’s latest survey.
Kavanaugh did gain some support since the late summer, with 41 percent of the public now backing his confirmation. But while Kavanaugh gained ground with the Republican base, he lost it with the broader public, as 51 percent of voters say the Senate should have rejected his Supreme Court bid. What’s more, a majority of voters also say that they believe the women who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct were telling the truth; that Kavanaugh lied about his alcohol use before the Senate; and that “his professional qualifications do not outweigh any questions about his personal conduct.”
And yet, it’s quite plausible that installing a historically unpopular Supreme Court justice — whom most Americans regard as a sex offender — was, nonetheless, a political win for the GOP.
As Kavanaugh dominated the headlines over the past two weeks, Republicans made slight gains in the House’s generic ballot, while significantly improving their prospects in the race for Senate control. It’s possible that these two developments had nothing to do with each other. But there’s reason to believe that the Kavanaugh fight has helped Republicans “nationalize” some key races in deep-red territory: In recent weeks, Kevin Cramer has taken a commanding lead over Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota (as the congressman has steadfastly supported Kavanaugh in needlessly misogynistic terms), while Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn has pulled ahead of former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen in Tennessee.
Furthermore, while Kavanaugh is historically unpopular for a Supreme Court justice, he’s still better-liked than Donald Trump, or much of the Republican Party’s governing agenda. Thus, it was probably better for the GOP to have its Supreme Court pick in the news — even in the context of a sexual assault scandal — than to have, say, the news networks devoting wall-to-wall coverage to the revelation that Donald Trump reportedly cheated the government out of hundreds of millions in taxes, or to the GOP’s efforts to kill insurance protections for people with preexisting conditions by judicial fiat.
Of course, in a well-functioning democracy, any of these news cycles would have been terrible for the Republican Party. But in a well-functioning democracy, the Senate would have rejected Kavanaugh’s nomination: The 50 senators who voted him onto the court last weekend collectively represent just 44 percent of the U.S. population.
A majority of Americans don’t want Kavanaugh on their Supreme Court, or Republicans in control of their Congress, or Donald Trump in their White House. But in the United States, what a majority of voters want doesn’t matter all that much.