The big two lessons of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation are that U.S. politics right now is party politics – and that the Republican Party has fully absorbed the style and principles of Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party, and other influences that tell it to never compromise and always exploit all short-term advantages as much as possible.
It’s impossible to understand the Kavanaugh fight without understanding that politics goes through the parties. That’s true on a personal level: Kavanaugh was personally close to and had worked with many prominent Republicans. The key ones were White House Counsel Don McGahn, who probably had more direct influence on selecting him than anyone else, and George W. Bush, who reportedly worked the phones hard to get him confirmed, with a special emphasis on talking with Susan Collins. Parties are (among other things) networks of individual partisans, and that means that within specialized areas – such as the top lawyers and the politicians who work with them – strong personal relationships develop. That helps a lot when things go wrong.
Politicians may not be given explicit orders from a single party boss sitting at the top of an organization chart that they must go along … but they clearly get the message. That explains why Democrats, including several up for election in Republican states, almost unanimously opposed Kavanaugh (and the only exception, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, was widely thought to be an available “no” vote if needed).
Precisely because feminists and other groups focused on social issues have successfully become far more central to Democratic politics, especially when…