2020

The New Kavanaugh Story Is Really About Biden 2020

September 16, 2019
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Brett Kavanaugh. (Photo by Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)

To read the coverage of the latest Brett Kavanaugh story is not the same as reading the story itself which is, as a matter of evidence-based reporting, not overwhelming. I would encourage you to read John McCormack, David French, and Robby Soave.

And no, this story is not going to get Kavanaugh removed from the high court.

So why is the media fixated on the idea of Kavanaugh’s impeachment? Because the 2020 Democratic candidates are going to try to use it as a crowbar to pry Joe Biden from his perch atop the primary race.

The most important development in the story came on Sunday when the campaign’s three viable progressive candidates and Julian Castro called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment:

Only one Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached. It was in 1805, and Justice Samuel Chase was consequently acquitted by the Senate. So spoiler: Neither Brett Kavanaugh nor any other justice is going to be impeached and removed from office in the foreseeable future because we have a closely divided Senate that, for reasons of demography, is likely to stay closely divided.

So why would the 2020 progressives be rushing out front calling for an impeachment that’s never going to happen? Because they’re daring Joe Biden to follow them.

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Biden’s whole pitch for his candidacy is a Return to Normal. (I’ve long maintained that his campaign slogan should be “Make America Great Again” and he should put it on a purple hat.) He’s telling voters that this moment of political poison and tribal warfare is unnatural and unhealthy and that you can be a partisan and push your agenda without getting, you know, crazy about it.

Demanding the impeachment of a Supreme Court justice based on no hard evidence is the exact opposite of what Biden is selling. It’s the type of thing he’s campaigning against.

So far it’s working. But the progressive theory of the race is that Biden is out of step with where Democratic primary viewers live today. Demanding the impeachment of Kavanaugh is easy—you just tweet “I demand Kavanaugh be impeached!”

By pushing that line out there, Warren, Bernie, Harris, and the rest are hoping to force Biden to either abandon his centrist argument, or be forced to explain why, exactly, a meaningless impeachment based on little evidence against a guy like Kavanaugh is a bad idea. Which would take at least a two or three paragraph Facebook post. It’s like trying to explain why the Constitution doesn’t let you outlaw guns by executive order or force Mexico to pay to build a continent-wide border wall. The killjoy saying, “Uh, no you can’t” doesn’t usually win the argument.

And even if the Kavanaugh gambit fizzles on still-closer inspection, obsessing about the subject is still a good play for the progressive Democrats because it opens a pathway to talking about Anita Hill—which, despite what you may imagine, is still something hippies over the age of 60 care very much about.

Brett Kavanaugh may be a lot of things: A family man, a scary conservative, a lax bro. (Obviously had he graduated from high school in the 2000s he would have played lacrosse and not football and basketball.)

But right now he’s also something else: A trap being laid for Joe Biden.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is executive editor of The Bulwark.