By: Eli Yokley – morningconsult.com – January 10, 2019
Three Republican senators who could face primary challenges next year are beginning 2019 on the upswing with their party’s base after playing pivotal roles in the successful confirmation of President Donald Trump’s controversial Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose fiery speech defending Kavanaugh at a Judiciary Committee hearing helped rally and unify Senate Republicans; moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, whose vote proved decisive in Kavanaugh’s confirmation; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who’s made reshaping the courts for conservatives his legacy, all saw double-digit increases in their net approval among GOP voters in their states, according to the latest edition of Morning Consult’s Senator Approval Rankings.
“A Supreme Court nomination unites Republicans across the board because it’s viewed as an institutional function,” Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist who helped shepherd Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, across the finish line, said in an interview. “It’s something that every Republican believes, whether you’re supportive of the president or a ‘Never Trumper’ in some of these more liberal areas.”
The Kavanaugh fight was unique, pitting Trump’s effort to solidify a conservative high court against the #MeToo era, culminating in Christine Blasey Ford’s emotional testimony alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two were in high school in the 1980s.
Gary Marx, a Republican strategist who advises the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, said their victory in Kavanaugh’s nomination fight is “indelibly marked” in the memory of Republican voters.
“You cannot take away from Sens. Collins, Graham or McConnell the leadership each one uniquely showed,” he said.
Bonjean, who spent years working for congressional leaders on both sides of the Capitol, said the Kavanaugh fight “is hugely important on the front end” of the 2020 fight as possible Republican challengers mull whether to launch campaigns.
Graham has faced primary challenges both times he’s sought re-election to the Senate, including a tough fight against a field of tea party challengers in 2014 who criticized his stance on immigration and his support for then-President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. Graham was also critical of Trump as they both vied for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, at one point calling him “a kook” who was “crazy” and “unfit for office.”
But since Trump became president, Graham has emerged as an outspoken ally — serving as a staunch advocate for much of the president’s agenda, and perhaps most notably, his diatribe excoriating Democrats for their treatment of Kavanaugh after Blasey Ford’s testimony, uniting the right and steering the nomination back on track.
Republicans in South Carolina appear to have taken notice.
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