Did the New York Times Just Tilt the Election Scales to the Democrats?

In an attempt to review a book on Justice Brett Kavanaugh by two of its reporters, The New York Times put up an excerpt that caused quite an uproar – including an omission that left Kavanaugh defenders livid. Margaret Sullivan had the details in the Washington Post.

The book authors, Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, wrote that they had found significant corroboration that Deborah Ramirez — a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s — had experienced an incident in which the future Supreme Court justice thrust his penis at her at a college party.

And they wrote that they had uncovered an account of a different incident involving Kavanaugh. Another classmate — now the prominent lawyer Max Stier — said he saw Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different party, where friends of his “pushed his penis into the hands of a female student.”

What wasn’t in the excerpt was a crucial piece of information: that the woman supposedly involved in the Stier-relayed incident wouldn’t corroborate the story, or be interviewed, and that her friends said she didn’t remember it.

Whoops.

Much of the right-side of Twitter (from Joe Scarborough out) pounced. Trump himself called on Kavanaugh to launch a “liable” suit. More importantly, even a large chunk of the Never-Trump-Conservative movement came to the Justice’s defense, bringing back the spirit of 2018 (of sorts) …

… and that’s where the NYT, by mistake, may have made it much easier for the Democrats to win next year.

It’s no secret that the Republicans have been spinning the Senate results in 2018 as a success. Trump in particular remembers the upper house gains fondly. That narrative relies on the initial Kavanaugh battle re-energizing the Republican base and sparking a rural red wave. Republicans would naturally hope a similar environment in  2020 could provide similar Senate gains (and re-elect the president).

There’s only one problem with that: the state-by-state 2018 results wouldn’t help the GOP in 2020.

By nearly all accounts, the presidential election next year will be decided by six states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Five of those states had Senate elections in 2018. Democrats won four of them. The GOP won Florida by a whisker and North Carolina had no Senate race (although the two parties largely split the House vote). If the Democratic nominee for president repeats that performance, they’ll end up with 290 electoral votes and victory.

Not even the GOP Senate is certain. If the Democrats can win the Senate seats in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina, they can lose Alabama and still reach a 50-50 tie (broken by a Democratic Vice President, in theory). Senate Republicans in 2018 had two things going for them – a cycle heavy in pro-Trump states and a number of first term incumbents who needed Barack Obama’s coattails to win in 2012. In 2020, the map is less friendly, and it will be GOP first-termers who needed the anti-Obama backlash of 2014 to win on the hot seat.

Still, a re-run of the mythical 2018 victories will appeal to Trump and GOP leadership (but I repeat myself). If the NYT error convinces Trump et al to make 2020 a Kavanaugh sequel, it will likely be to the Democrats’ benefit.