At the moment when Anthony Kennedy retired, I wrote a piece for The Week with a title that largely saves you the time of reading it: "Democrats cannot win the fight to replace Justice Kennedy. They can only prepare for the next battle." Now that Kavanaugh's confirmation process has begun, everyone has that familiar, desperate "Oh shit" feeling that prompts a search for a last second heroic solution. There isn't one. Gumming up the works in the Senate won't stop one nomination (although it certainly could have helped, if only Schumer had a spine, push back the timeline on some lower court nominations who were instead fast-tracked for no reason whatsoever).
This highlights a problem with our political culture that I think about more and more lately; everything is very short-term oriented and nobody is playing an effective long game. Instead of focusing on some miracle scenario in which Kavanaugh isn't confirmed (spoiler: he will be) why would Democrats not focus on preventing some of the lower court nominations by dragging their procedural feet? Well, part of the problem is that the current leadership simply doesn't know how to fight, has internalized losing, and accepts anything the majority chooses to give it as a victory. The current state of Democratic leadership is not dissimilar to the sad state of GOP leadership in the decade prior to Newt Gingrich's takeover (think people like Bob Michel). Rank and file Republicans of that time complained constantly that their leadership was content to be the minority, to finish second, and to accept table scraps from the Democratic majority. They received in return lectures about how they should be thankful for the scraps and proud of the leadership for "winning" them.
Now the parties have reversed roles. And losing to Mitch McConnell is so deeply branded into the psyche of this current generation of Democratic leaders that I think we're going to have to wait until everyone involved is dead before any progress can be made.
Whether or not he succeeded, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would do absolutely anything – without limit from scruple or law – to stop the nomination process. Minority Leader Schumer doesn't have the same spirit. More importantly, McConnell has always had his eyes on prizes down the road in a way that the Democratic Party in Congress doesn't seem to have right now. Those lower court judges who just got fast tracked – perhaps one or two of whom could have been blocked with great effort – will bear fruit for Republicans down the road with the decisions they make. It would have been better strategically – and boy do Democratic insiders love them some strategizing 11th-degree chess – to recognize that Kavanaugh is a foregone conclusion and try to pave a better road in the future. Instead, they get nothing in the short term or the long term. Nothing is gained.
They seem, at the highest and therefore most self-destructive level, unable to let go of the 2004-era belief that voters will reward Democrats for playing nice. Reach across the aisle. Be the bigger people. They go low, we go high. And Schumer in particular keeps trying to wring moral victories out of caving to the GOP and hoping they'll do something nice in return. They won't. They never do.
Politics is, for people who say Decorum and Bipartisanship are important, entertainment. It is not. It is a blood sport, and people's lives are literally on the line. If you don't want Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, you have to stop that from happening at the beginning of a long process, not at its culmination. If you don't want kids in cages, you can't wait until the kids are in cages to figure out a solution. All the groundwork to getting kids in cages and a right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court was laid over the past 15 to 20 years.
There's just not a lot that can be done to fight the cancer once it has metastasized. We are now reaping the rewards of poor choices made during three decades of Democratic strategy focused on moving to the right to win people in the center while the GOP just kept moving farther, farther, and farther right, and the equally misguided strategy of assuming that in the name of honor and decorum there are certain depths to which conservatives would not sink (hint: there aren't). The best phrasing I've ever heard for their miscalculation is: The Democrats are pointing at the rule book screaming "A dog isn't allowed to play basketball!" while a dog dunks on them over and over again and the crowd goes wild. American voters don't give a shit about decorum, procedure, rules, and bipartisanship. If they did, Democrats wouldn't be the minority at almost every turn across the country right now.
If there is any hope for the future, it is in laying a better groundwork today and in the next decade to bear some fruit in the late 2020s and beyond. It's too late to stop what's happening in real time.