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Supreme Court Nomination Process Galvanizes Republican Voters


Members of the Senate are gathered in a secure room this morning, reading through the FBI's supplemental background check on Brett Kavanaugh. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing the process forward. A vote is scheduled for tomorrow. Earlier this week at The Atlantic Festival here in Washington, D.C., Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the accusations against Kavanaugh have been great for the Republican Party.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: Whether you're a Trump Republican, a Bush Republican, a McCain Republican, a Libertarian or a vegetarian, you're pissed. I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as I do right now. The defining issue in 2018 has changed. It's about this.

MARTIN: Alex Conant is with us now. He's a Republican strategist, and he also served as the communications director for Senator Marco Rubio in Florida.

Alex, thanks for being back on the show.

ALEX CONANT: Yeah. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Do you agree with Senator Graham? Has the fight over Kavanaugh's nomination unified the Republican Party?

CONANT: Absolutely. I mean, look; I think for the last two years, there's been a lot of Republicans who really like Donald Trump's policies but don't necessarily like his personality, and I think that's been a drag on Republicans when it comes to the polls, especially vis-a-vis the 2018 midterms, where you just haven't seen the sort of enthusiasm on our side as you've seen on the Democratic side. But now this election is not about Donald Trump and his tweets. The election, at least at the moment, is about Brett Kavanaugh, who's been dominating the national conversation and the campaign debates for the last two weeks. And Republicans universally believe that he is an incredibly well-qualified nominee, deserves to be confirmed and is just disgusted at the way Democrats and some in the media have treated him.

MARTIN: We should say there's a new poll out this morning, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that shows that before the Kavanaugh hearings, there was basically a 10-point gap between Democrats and Republicans when it came to which voters said this year's midterms were, quote, "very important." According to this poll, that gap has now basically disappeared. I mean, can you explain the evolution on Brett Kavanaugh? Because there is a - it's not just an acceptance of him on the right. After these hearings, Republican voters are rallying to his defense in a new way.

CONANT: Yeah. Look; I mean, they see the media and liberals' and Democrats' attacks on Brett Kavanaugh as attacks on conservatives. It's a reminder that everything that Democrats and some - you know, especially the liberal media have been saying about Donald Trump over the last two years isn't about Donald Trump's personality and his tweets. It's about the fact that Donald Trump is a conservative. And that's what Lindsey Graham was talking about. It's a unifying moment for the conservative movement and for the Republican Party that frankly needed a unifying moment heading into the midterm.

MARTIN: But how do you make sense of that, Alex, though? Because Republicans came out of the hearing initially saying, Christine Blasey Ford is a credible witness. President Trump came out of the hearings and said, Christine Blasey Ford is a credible witness. And then the president goes out to a campaign rally in Mississippi and says this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How did you get home? I don't remember. How'd you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know.


MARTIN: Behind him, white men laughing uproariously at the president mocking the woman who says she was sexually assaulted.

CONANT: Yeah, and...

MARTIN: What does the Republican Party do with that, a Republican Party that suffers from a gender gap in these midterms?

CONANT: Well - and frankly, I don't think those comments were helpful. I think most Republican campaign strategists will tell you those comments aren't particularly helpful if for no other reason than it distracts from the issue, which is some of the more unfair and less credible attacks on Brett Kavanaugh and some of the character assassination that there's absolutely no - you know, beyond what Dr. Ford has said - and second of all, that it reframes the debate away from Brett Kavanaugh, who Republicans find highly credible, and puts it back on Donald Trump, where, again, there's a lot of Republicans who have problems with some of his personality and how he makes all those personal attacks, and it distracts from the policies.

So I think those comments were regrettable. But I think the issue over all remains a very unifying one for Republicans. And you mentioned the gender gap. And on your survey and other surveys, the enthusiasm gap is closing because of a growing enthusiasm between men and women on the Republican side. I think Republicans, whether you're a man or a woman, you're equally troubled by the unfair treatment of Brett Kavanaugh. It's given our party a lot of energy headed into the midterms.

MARTIN: But you are in a moment. This is a #MeToo movement. It is personal for the president. He has said himself that his personal experience with sexual misconduct allegations is informing his thinking. Does the GOP risk becoming the party that defends men who've been accused of sexual assault?

CONANT: Well, I think, no, hopefully not because that's a losing proposition. However, Brett Kavanaugh - in Brett Kavanaugh's case, there's no evidence that he did anything wrong, as the FBI report reportedly shows.

MARTIN: Republican strategist Alex Conant. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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