President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday credited Democrats’ mishandling of the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh as the turning point that helped Republicans increase their Senate majority.
“Tremendous energy was given to the Republican Party by the way they treated then-Judge Kavanaugh, now-Justice Kavanaugh,” Mr. Trump said at a White House press conference. “The voters have also clearly rebuked the Senate Democrats for their handling of the Kavanaugh hearings — that was a factor.”
While the president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterm elections, Senate Republicans bucked that trend Tuesday by picking up at least two seats. Four Senate Democrats in “red” states who voted against Kavanaugh’s nomination lost their re-election bids: Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Bill Nelson of Florida. Mr. Nelson has asked for a recount.
The only Democrat who voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, won his re-election. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana was the only Democrat up for re-election in a state won by Mr. Trump in 2016 who voted against Justice Kavanaugh and was re-elected.
Top Republicans say the GOP base became more energized to vote when Democrats raised allegations of sexual assault against Justice Kavanaugh dating back to the 1980s.
Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called the confirmation hearings in September “extremely helpful” to the GOP. Rather than withdraw the nomination, the White House and Justice Kavanaugh pushed back aggressively against the accusations.
“Core voters in the states that were critical to us were highly offended by the questioning of the presumption of innocence and the tactics. And I think it was like an adrenaline shot. We were worried about lack of intensity on our side, and I think the Kavanaugh fight certainly provided that.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York dismissed the Republicans’ assessment of the hearing’s impact on the elections.
“What they did is show the nation that Republicans and President Trump want to fill the bench with judges, justices who are anti-women’s health care, who would side with radicals on no gun control, who would hurt the rights of women, minorities, voting rights, LGBT rights. I think that did as much to galvanize people to vote Democratic as it did to vote Republican, and in the long run it is going to hurt them much more.”
In the House, Republicans lost their majority, and Democrats picked up at least 26 seats.
Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, said the “circus that was Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation was a reckoning for U.S. Senators.”
“The conservative women behind CWA’s Women for Kavanaugh campaign were largely responsible for the demise of Senators Heidi Heitkamp, Claire McCaskill, and Joe Donnelly. Meanwhile Sen. Manchin, the only Democrat to vote in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, held his seat.”
She said voters “rejected the mob mentality that tried to destroy an honorable man in the name of political power. This is good news for our political discourse going forward.”